Porter Shreve’s When the White House Was Ours

BY MEHDI OKASI, Editor-in-Chief

WhiteHouseI purchased Porter Shreve’s new novel, When the White House Was Ours yesterday from our local independent bookstore, Vons. Actually, I went on a little bit of a spree, managing to spend close to a hundred dollars in under fifteen minutes. But it’s all worth it. Money spent on books is never money lost…did my mother used to say that or have I managed to write fictional advice from real people in order to justify my choices as a writer?

Regardless, I want to tell you all about this novel because it kept me up late into the night as I read straight through Part I. I’m a fan of Porter Shreve’s work, but this novel, in my humble opinion, marks a new period in Porter’s career. This is an impressive piece of work with characters that jump off the page. I care about every one of them; from the idealistic father to the laconic and aloof Linc…they make me want to scream my advice at them. To make a reader care that much is a brilliant feat. The voice of our protagonist, Daniel Truitt, is so endearing that the reader doesn’t want to leave his side. His point of view is the right choice to tell this story as he observes the chaos around him, both inside and outside the house. Daniel’s political interests give the reader access to the political backdrop of 1976 with the election of Jimmy Carter to the presidency. The private and public stakes are seamlessly woven here as we see the impact that politics has on the private lives of these characters. But I still have to finish the novel (I’m at a really juicy point); however I couldn’t wait to blog about it so you, my fellow readers, could go out and pick up this book.

Here are some reviews:

“Porter Shreve has always had a keen feel for a story and an instinct for what is interesting in the world. He is a wonderful and accomplished young writer.” —Lorrie Moore, author of Birds of America and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

“A loosely autobiographical story of free love and family set against the hopeful but disappointing Carter presidency, Shreve’s third novel skillfully interweaves the story of teenager Daniel Truitt with that of the United States at a crossroads…. The political backdrop is perfectly played, as is the bittersweet nostalgia that makes the book and its freewheeling gang irresistible.” —Publishers Weekly

“A year in the life of an experimental school, nostalgically evoking both politics and the sunset of hippiedom, in the ’70s. …. [When the White House Was Ours] nicely counterpoints Daniel’s coming-of-age story with the bewildering, and even endearing, goofiness of this memorable time in his—and the country’s—growing up.” —Kirkus Review

“Shreve sure tells smart, inventive, sociologically intriguing stories, and his latest is a fun-to-read novel with great relevance and charm… The coming-of-age element is irresistible, as is the impossible dream of an anything-goes school, and what a wild and crazy extended family Shreve has created in the age of free love and Watergate.” —Booklist

Porter Shreve was born during the Lyndon Johnson administration, grew up in Washington, DC and has attended three presidential inaugurations: Carter ‘77, Clinton ‘93, and Clinton ‘97. In the 1970s his family started an alternative school called “Our House Is a Very, Very, Very Fine House,” and some of When the White House Was Ours draws loosely from that experience. Shreve’s first novel, The Obituary Writer, was a New York Times Notable Book, and his second, Drives Like a Dream, was a Chicago Tribune Book of the Year, among other honors. He lives with his wife, the writer Bich Minh Nguyen, in Chicago and West Lafayette, Indiana, where he directs the Creative Writing Program at Purdue University.