Sid Vicious, geodesic domes, and Buckminster Fuller…these are not themes you typically build a sentence around, let alone an entire work of fiction. However, that’s exactly what Peter Bognanni has done. And we’re glad he has because he’s not only created an immensely readable novel but he’s managed to put a fresh spin on the coming of age genre, which let’s face it, after several millennia of story-telling, is not easy to do.
The House of Tomorrow is, at times, both irreverent and poignant, charming and devastating, and this contrasting balance stemming from its odd couple protagonists makes this an engrossing book from the first page to the last. At first glance the pairing of two very different teenage boys seems improbable at best and gimmicky at worst. But it works. And after several chapters into the book it seems not only plausible but natural that these students of such divergent gurus (Johnny Rotten and Buckminster Fuller) would join together.
Sebastian Pendergrast is a 16-year old shut-in orphan raised by a Fuller-obsessed grandmother in a geodesic dome on a hill. Jared Whitcomb is a sickly and chain-smoking punk rock wannabe with a new heart in his chest and arguably the most bitter 16-year old on the planet. When Sebastian’s grandmother is incapacitated by a stroke he’s left to his own devices and, for the first time in his life, has access to life outside the dome. It doesn’t take long before the siren song of teenage temptations (think punk rock, cigarettes and girls) beckons. After a chance meeting through the kindness of Jared’s mother, these two loners strike up an unlikely friendship and the baddest punk duo North Branch, Iowa as ever seen.
Sebastian plays the straight man to Jared’s ball of fury and neither has been dealt a very good hand in life. But they make each other better and their respective lives richer and that’s what makes these characters so compelling. Neither one emerges as a wholly-formed young adult, but for the brief sliver of time we’re allowed in their lives, they lead the reader on a journey of unexpected and satisfying discovery.
Bognanni‘s prose drips with angst, but a good angst, and he never allows it to suffocate the story. He keeps the tone on target with inventive teenage dialogue that generally hits the mark. And that’s one of the surprising things about this book: his ability to mimic the mostly mindless chatter of teen boys in a way that’s not only engaging, but revealing. Using Fuller’s creative philosophy as a strangely effective prop, he maintains a narrative that is unexpectedly moving and creates a surprising tenderness amidst the barren void of young male adolescence.
The House of Tomorrow won the LA Times award for new fiction in 2010 and critical acclaim from various media outlets. According to his website, Bognanni is hard at work on his next novel.