Model Home

A Novel

About The Book

Warren Ziller moved his family to Southern California in search of a charmed life, and to all appearances, he found it: a gated community not far from the beach, amid the affluent splendor of the 1980s. But the Zillers’ American dream is about to be rudely interrupted. Warren has squandered their savings on a bad real estate investment, which he conceals from his wife, Camille, who misreads his secrecy as a sign of an affair. Their children, Dustin, Lyle, and Jonas, have grown as distant as satellites, too busy with their own betrayals and rebellions to notice their parents’ distress. When tragedy strikes, the Zillers are forced to move to Warren’s abandoned housing development in the desert. In this comically bleak new home, each must reckon with what’s led them there and who’s to blame—and whether they can summon the forgiveness needed to hold the family together.

With penetrating insights into modern life and an uncanny eye for everyday absurdities, Eric Puchner delivers a wildly funny, heartbreaking, and thoroughly original portrait of an American family.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Model Home by Eric Puchner includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 

 

Introduction

It’s the mid-eighties, and the Ziller family seem to be living the American dream. Warren, a real-estate developer, has moved his wife and three children from the Midwest to a wealthy gated community in Southern California. But they don’t know that he has invested all their money on a gamble—a housing development in the desert—and lost everything.

As Warren desperately tries to conceal the truth from his family, things begin to unravel, not just for him, but for those around him. His wife Camille knows that Warren is keeping something from her and concludes that it must be an affair; seventeen-year-old Dustin, fighting against his nice-guy image, falls for his girlfriend's troubled younger sister; teenage daughter Lyle, perpetually angry, becomes involved in a secret relationship with a security guard; and eleven-year-old Jonas becomes increasingly more odd in what seems to be a cry for attention.

After a tragic accident, the Zillers are forced to move into one of the houses in Warren's abandoned development, with no one around for miles, and must come to terms with themselves, with one another, and with what makes them a family. 

 Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Model Home is told in chapters from alternating points of view. Did this allow you to get a full view of the Zillers? Was there any character you wanted to hear from more or less? Until late in the novel, we see Jonas through other people’s eyes, but don’t hear his point of view. Did his perspective surprise you?

2. Was there a character you found yourself most identifying with? Did you relate most to the one closest to you in terms of age and gender, or another one entirely? Why?

3. At the beginning of the novel, Dustin is popular and eternally optimistic while Lyle is an angry outcast, making lists of people and things she hates. At the end of the novel Dustin and Lyle seem to have reversed roles as Lyle becomes more outgoing and Dustin retreats. Why do you think the author positions them as foils to one another? Do their differences make them seem more extreme?

4. One of the major themes of Model Home is that of being an outsider: in life, at school, in one’s own family. In what ways is each character on the outside looking in?

5. Although Dustin is likeable and friendly, he has “a different vision of himself. In this vision… he was strange and spontaneous and did charismatically delinquent things.” (p. 26) After the accident, he becomes angry, withdrawn, and often cruel. Do you think this latter version of Dustin is his true self, which he allows to come out once he’s no longer concerned about people liking him? Or is it just a show to keep everyone at bay?

6. Did Jonas’s quirks make him more or less likable to you? Dustin states that Jonas’s “life would be an endless trial of humiliations he was too… clueless to avoid.” (p. 29) Do you agree with that statement, or do you think it’s a stage he’ll outgrow?

7. There are many moments in the novel where the characters are mistaken about the facts or about one another’s motives, but the reader can see the whole picture. How did this affect your reading experience?

8. Dustin seems to have the perfect girlfriend in Kira, who is beautiful and supportive and believes in his talent, but he is drawn to her troubled younger sister, Taz. What is he drawn to in Taz? Once she’s no longer acting out against herself, does he feel differently about her?

9. Although Lyle is sleeping with Hector, she won’t tell her family about him, and when she sees him in public she pretends not to know him. Does Lyle want to be with Hector, or does she just want to be wanted? Is she upset after their breakup because she misses him, or because she doesn’t want to be alone?

10. When Warren finally tells Camille the truth about their finances, “there was a release to it, the words tumbling free. He waited for the reckoning to begin” (p. 158). Many of the characters in Model Home are carrying heavy secrets. At what points in the novel do the characters confess secrets or choose to continue to hold them? Do they release them for the sake of others, or are their motives selfish?

11. Camille knows that Warren is keeping something from her, and suspects him of having an affair. Is the truth more or less of a betrayal? At the end of the novel, is Camille disappointed in Warren, or in the way her life has turned out?

12. After Jonas is reunited with his family, he makes up an idyllic story about where he’s been and what happened to him. Why do you think he chooses not to tell them the truth? Are his parents right or wrong to not push him for an answer? Is this willingness to accept a lie, however obvious, indicative of how they react to one another in general?

13. When Warren is driving home from picking up Jonas, he muses that, “Perhaps, in the end, it was all you could hope for: to get your family together in one car… and feel the precious weight of their presence.” (p. 325) Does Warren find redemption in his family? Ultimately, what does the novel say about family?

Tips to Enhance Your Book Club

1. When Jonas runs away, the experience is very different than what he expected. Have the members of your book club discuss, if they were to "run away from home," what that ideal experience would be like, and what they think they would miss the most from their own lives. 

2. Model Home is filled with such rich language and dialogue. There are many points where the author seems to capture whole scenes or tell whole stories with one sentence. As they read, have the members of your club keep track of their favorite passages or quotes to share during your discussion.

3. Have the members of your club visit the author’s website, EricPuchner.com, to read some of his short stories and nonfiction essays, or read his short story collection Music Through the Floor. Discuss how his writing style varies across genres.

About The Author

Photograph by Gordon Noel

Eric Puchner is the author of the collection Music Through the Floor, a finalist for the California Book Award and the NYPL Young Lions of Fiction Award, and of the novel Model Home, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Prize. Eric is a former Stegner Fellow, a Pushcart Prize winner and winner of an award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies including Best American Short Stories, Zoetrope, Best American Non-Required Reading, Tin House, and Granta. His personal essays appear regularly in GQ, Medium, and elsewhere. Eric is a professor in the writing seminars at Johns Hopkins. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, the novelist Katharine Noel, and their two children.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (February 9, 2010)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439170342

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Raves and Reviews

“The only conclusion to come to after reading this novel is that Eric Puchner is a massive talent…Each character is perfectly drawn and deeply interesting. Go read this book.” --McSweeney’s

“Puchner’s well-constructed tale of a house of pain built on a foundation of secrets echoes Updike and Easton Ellis.” --People magazine, 4 stars

“Puchner is an extraordinarily talented writer... a master of mood and tone, able to make moments of pure hilarity follow heartbreak with the seamlessness of real life.”

--Boston Globe

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