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House Rules

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A harrowing, shockingly authentic, savagely funny novel of a teenage girl's odyssey through sexual violence and drugs--the most electrifying fictional debut since Bret Easton "Ellis's Less Than Zero."

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A harrowing, shockingly authentic, savagely funny novel of a teenage girl's odyssey through sexual violence and drugs--the most electrifying fictional debut since Bret Easton "Ellis's Less Than Zero."

30 review for House Rules

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bill Kupersmith

    In some ways Natalie Scott’s Rules for Riders, Anton Disclafani’s The Yonahloosee Riding Camp for Girls, and this book, Heather Lewis’s House Rules, seem different versions of the same basic story - a young equestrienne’s discovery of the real world. If they were films, Scott’s might be PG13 light romance & Disclafani’s an epic rated R. Lewis’s: Unrated & full-frontal - no certificate, no cuts, & no concessions to the censors. Like Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, House Rules struck me as ach In some ways Natalie Scott’s Rules for Riders, Anton Disclafani’s The Yonahloosee Riding Camp for Girls, and this book, Heather Lewis’s House Rules, seem different versions of the same basic story - a young equestrienne’s discovery of the real world. If they were films, Scott’s might be PG13 light romance & Disclafani’s an epic rated R. Lewis’s: Unrated & full-frontal - no certificate, no cuts, & no concessions to the censors. Like Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, House Rules struck me as achieving tragic status, tho’ whether you should read it as a full-scale tragedy depends on how believable you find Lee’s situation @ the end. My experience with hunters & jumpers is entirely second hand. My world was sailing; but both riding and yachting satisfy some of our highest aspirations, demanding skill, intense competitiveness, dedication, physical endurance, & courage in the face of danger. In both we adapt to the demands of beautiful, unpredictable, & often expensive, @ the top echelon extremely expensive indeed, partners - horses or yachts. Which makes riding and sailing traditional pursuits for the rich. But by no means exclusively. Horses need riders & yachts need crew & both require a lot of maintenance & there are many young people in particular who would offer their whole lives to riding or to sailing - whose entire net wealth fits into a duffle bag. If that choice of life ever appealed when you were young (I’m gazing wistfully @ my old yellow seabag), you’ll find you share a lot with Lee. As Aristotle pointed out long ago, we enjoy good representations in fiction of things we would not enjoy at all in real life, whether Oedipus stabbing himself in the eyeballs, or in Lee’s case, what it would feel like to mount a horse after being fisted. I cannot imagine wanting to be a bottom, but can see in being a sexual passive a form of misplaced spirituality, a wrong turn in the path to what Ignatius designated as the third level of humility - perfect identification with Jesus’ suffering. But tho’ some of the blurb descriptions of this book make it sound like a work of Lesbian S/M erotica, I did not find that @ all. The sex scenes seemed more descriptions of extreme unarmed combat or OTT hazing @ a very bad fraternity or military school. The very heavy drug use in the novel represents a Dionysiac spirituality, as in Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. (I’d known from my hospital experience the Dilaudid was the good stuff, but now I know why & that you can use it to control both horses & riders.) Like some other favorite characters, Lee is both extremely tough and very vulnerable. She doesn’t know how to recognize or repay generosity, yet she has an enormous capacity to endure abuse while retaining her personal dignity. But tho’ the sex in House Rules is not all that erotic, this book excels other novels about young athletes in the erotics of extreme competition. You can almost feel you’re in the saddle with Lee & smell the horse lather. Amber Dermont hadn’t a clue how to do that with dingy sailing in The Starboard Sea. Even Yonahloosee Riding Camp - tho’ belonging to a higher level of literature - doesn’t take you over the jumps with Thea Atwell as Heather Lewis lets you ride with Lee. The only thing I’ve read recently that matches this in sheer intensity is the chapter in Dare Me where the Sutton Grove cheer squad elevate Beth Cassidy for what is expected to be the culminating 2-2-1. (Beth, we recall, was also an equestrienne as well as a cheer captain.) I read House Rules shortly after Pamela Moore’s Chocolates for Breakfast, & of course am haunted by the similarities not only with their main characters, but by the fates of their authors (who join Lucy Grealy & Judee Sill in my pantheon of martyrs to misplaced spirituality.) Artistically, the fate of the author shouldn’t affect our estimate of the meaning & quality of her work, but of course it does. Heather Lewis left behind a couple more novels about teenaged girls who suffer a lot of abuse. They may be too OTT even for me, but I expect I’ll eventually try one of them, when I’m ready to revisit the wilder shores. For now tho’ it’s back to cozier books featuring mere serial killers & such.

  2. 4 out of 5

    DoctorM

    Powerful, bleak, disturbing... I read it because it was reviewed somewhere as a kind of Bret Easton Ellis for the equestrian world--- one reviewer sardonically called it "the finest novel ever written about coked-out lesbian fist-fucking on the wealthy horse-show circuit". It's a lot more than that. It's dark enough, God knows, and there's a lot in it about drugs, transgressive sex, and the technical world of show jumpers. But it's also about a young heroine trying to put up walls between hersel Powerful, bleak, disturbing... I read it because it was reviewed somewhere as a kind of Bret Easton Ellis for the equestrian world--- one reviewer sardonically called it "the finest novel ever written about coked-out lesbian fist-fucking on the wealthy horse-show circuit". It's a lot more than that. It's dark enough, God knows, and there's a lot in it about drugs, transgressive sex, and the technical world of show jumpers. But it's also about a young heroine trying to put up walls between herself and a world full of abuse and pain...and wondering whether the walled-off life is worse than what a series of men and women do with her. A good novel by an author whose own life was deeply tragic and ended far too soon.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Harper Jean

    This reads like the sort of first novel one would write to try to exorcise a lifetime of abuse: it is searing and unflinching in its portrait of a young woman whose life is spent by day in the high-gloss world of the horse show circuit, and by night in the thrall of a series of depraved manipulative adults and equally wounded peers. Lewis's is a powerful voice, and not just because her subject matter is so disturbing: she conveys viscerally the complicated emotions and motivations of her protago This reads like the sort of first novel one would write to try to exorcise a lifetime of abuse: it is searing and unflinching in its portrait of a young woman whose life is spent by day in the high-gloss world of the horse show circuit, and by night in the thrall of a series of depraved manipulative adults and equally wounded peers. Lewis's is a powerful voice, and not just because her subject matter is so disturbing: she conveys viscerally the complicated emotions and motivations of her protagonist and the topsy-turvy reality of someone struggling to cope with abuse and at the same time to satisfy ordinary human needs for intimacy and accomplishment. It was difficult get through but I'm glad I did.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Gallaway

    Harrowing account of a fifteen-year old girl's descent into drug use, sex (mostly with her fellow riders/trainers), and horse showing/jumping. The sex and drug writing is remarkably descriptive without ever being self-indulgent or overwrought. This book isn't exactly "punk rock" but is maybe something that arose out of it, like certain strands of shoegaze.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This book is about a 15 year-old runaway working as a professional show jumper and getting really heavily into drugs and entangled in sadomasochistic lesbian relationships. I found out 3/4 of the way through that the author killed herself by overdose at the age of 40, and cried the rest of the way through the book. Raw and honest and heartbreaking.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    A troubling and deeply affecting book about a young woman's struggle with drugs, sex, control and professional show jumping. Probably best for people who have a lot of horse knowledge and aren't squeamish about fairly dramatic sex scenes.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karyn

    Disturbing

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vicky

    First and only book I've ever hated. Actually threw it away when I was done.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Initially NO

    It’s hard sometimes for me to decide whether I want to read a book that is this violent. But then I could ask myself, if I had met the author, Heather Lewis, while she was still alive and she told me of the abuse would I listen? Yes, absolutely, because I like her voice, despite what she needs to talk about. I can’t see myself running out to buy her next book, anymore than I would eagerly question the author further about fist-fucking and needle jabbing, but all the same this book is really well It’s hard sometimes for me to decide whether I want to read a book that is this violent. But then I could ask myself, if I had met the author, Heather Lewis, while she was still alive and she told me of the abuse would I listen? Yes, absolutely, because I like her voice, despite what she needs to talk about. I can’t see myself running out to buy her next book, anymore than I would eagerly question the author further about fist-fucking and needle jabbing, but all the same this book is really well written, got to give it credit for that. Publishers rejected her second novel because it was too full on, more so than this one, apparently. It only got published after her third book and her suicide. I just wonder what would’ve happened if Helen Lewis’s life had been different and she could write about other topics that were less sickening, because I reckon she would’ve gone on to write many more books that could be widely received. I find myself reading a scene uttering, ‘Errr! How can you do that to her!’ Putting the book down and not wanting to read anymore, then picking it up again because I want to see that the narrator somehow wins. She wins a horse grand prix. But she’s being doped up with ‘horse heroin’ by the nurse at the time who fist fucks her after she sticks her. Nope, Lee doesn’t win, or find love. But she is such a strong character. And the descriptions of riding are vivid and it’s all so real. I just wish it wasn’t such a nasty situation she was in, victim of incest and then running away only to find herself with people who abuse each other… Hang on, this is fiction isn’t it? Um, sort of, maybe, probably a lot of biography in there too. In any case, this stuff happens. I just so wish it didn’t. It is a really good literary novel. I only knock it because I’m squeamish about violence and therefore my enjoyment of the read is hampered by these scenes of frequent sexual violations.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Fonseca

    Given our culture's evergreen fixation with elite lives in spiral, I'm baffled that House Rules hasn't experienced a second wind like Heather Lewis' Notice. Perhaps this has something to do with the novel's rights: House Rules was a New Narrative gem published by Serpent's Tail during the early days of the UK house's short-lived US division. Then again, existing US NN house Semiotex(e) doesn't have a good record of intuitively republishing books when their authors reenter literary work conscious Given our culture's evergreen fixation with elite lives in spiral, I'm baffled that House Rules hasn't experienced a second wind like Heather Lewis' Notice. Perhaps this has something to do with the novel's rights: House Rules was a New Narrative gem published by Serpent's Tail during the early days of the UK house's short-lived US division. Then again, existing US NN house Semiotex(e) doesn't have a good record of intuitively republishing books when their authors reenter literary work consciousness (cough, Shulamith Firestone, cough). It's easy to call Lewis' work explicit, unnecessarily violent, or harrowing without taking note of what she does on the page: describing agony succinctly, vividly, and humorously without launching into a trauma studies lecture; using metaphor when one least expects it; immerses the reader in trauma's patterns of behavior and disorientation ("am I supposed to be finding this sexy?"); uses first person, knowing full well that it indicts her own personal history. Set in the strenuous and haphazard equestrian world of the Northeastern Eastern United States, House Rules immerses the reader as effortlessly as its 15 year-old protagonist breaks in a horse. There is sex that masquerades as a drug and drugs that masquerade as sex, which obvi means the center cannot hold. This is a page turner that even the most iron-gutted of readers will have to put down from time to time, if only to remember that it isn't their experience.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This is not a book for the faint of heart. Truly a grueling book about a teenage girl that lives a life of pain, partying, and work right at the margins of privilege. A harrowing story.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Edit: On September 22 2017, I rewrote this review and have included a lot of background information on Heather Lewis in my blog post. New review posted here: http://icomewithknives.blogspot.ca/20... New review below: [I've excluded the blurb on Heather's biography, but it's included in my original link] Not exactly spoilers in this review, but general outline of the plot (so you might want to avoid it!) (view spoiler)[The book begins with the narrator, Lee, facing expulsion due to being caught with Edit: On September 22 2017, I rewrote this review and have included a lot of background information on Heather Lewis in my blog post. New review posted here: http://icomewithknives.blogspot.ca/20... New review below: [I've excluded the blurb on Heather's biography, but it's included in my original link] Not exactly spoilers in this review, but general outline of the plot (so you might want to avoid it!) (view spoiler)[The book begins with the narrator, Lee, facing expulsion due to being caught with pot and a bunch of boys (sound familiar?). As a result, she has nowhere to go but doesn't want to go home to a father who sexually abuses her and a mother who helps him do it. Lee manages to travel to the horse circuit after making her friend repay a drug debt, and on her way there, she is molested by a man who is her seatmate. Through this we begin to see how Lee copes with the way others treat her. Lee always rode for the Cheslers, an old-money family who specializes in hunters. However, it's evident that Lee has always harbored a crush on Tory Markham, a woman who rides for the fast and dangerous pair, Carl and Linda Rusker. Lee finds the world of show-jumping more interesting than the hunters, giving readers impressions that hunter-jumping is stagnant even if there is a steady income. Rumors circulate about the Ruskers doping their horses, but Lee finds out there's more to it than just business. A relationship begins between Tory and Lee after she signs on with the Ruskers, yet it is unhealthy and painfully ruthless. Linda, who is also Tory's ex-lover, becomes involved with Lee later on and subjects her to even more sadistic treatment. The sex is always rough and unsexy in this book, but it's visceral. Very raw and unflinching. Clearly, though, true affection and love are more painful to Lee than the fisting that Tory and Linda subject her to. The rest of the story passes with scenes in hotel rooms, stables, schooling rings. Abuse and drugs, over and over again.. it's a cycle that never ends, and the author wants you to experience this cycle.. and how it feels to be trapped within it. Lee appears as a character who is honest and loyal, but can't get herself out of situations that will hurt her. It seems as if she doesn't have the strength or ability, but maybe it's because the pain helps numb everything in the end. She's a character who's very human and I found her relatable, despite us having little in common. I admire Lee. Sadly she only believes what happens to the horses is wrong, and could not understand the same was happening to her until the very end. Drugs are prevalent and the cause for Tory's downfall. I try to understand the ending but it's hard for me to grasp- what happened after? Was this the end of it all? I believe story was more autobiographical than one might think. Maybe there was someone like Tory or Linda in Heather's life, but we will never know who they are. I wished she included more backstory on the characters. It's a tall order, but things like the scars on Linda's stomach or the way Tory and Linda met, their past relationship- I wish I knew more. I would love to hear anybody else's take on the ending and the characters in general. It's a deep and dark story, and what makes it work is the mystery of the show-jumping world. Not all of us are familiar with it, so there's a certain elusiveness. The story truly conveyed emotion and pain- when I read about the abuse Linda and Carl set their horses through, an example being a car battery used on a water jump, it gave me a very lonely and discomforting feeling. This book only makes me wonder- was there really someone like this, people who did this, and if so.. what happened to them? The situations are so odd that they feel real to me, but Heather can't answer these questions for me now. I wish she could. She does an excellent job of exploring the line between pain and pleasure in her work, and the relationships of those who walk it. I wouldn't recommend this for everyone due to the subject matter, but I could go on and on about it. This book is very meaningful to me and evokes strong emotion due to the fact that it's probably autobiographical. I don't know what the reception was when it was first released, but it couldn't have been a book that everyone understood. I can imagine most brushed it off as something fucked up but failed to see the depth of the story as a whole. It pains me to know that someone had to go through this in order to write the book itself. (hide spoiler)]

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mishel Forte

    The content of the book may repel others, but not me. Lee is introduced as a troubled fifteen-year-old who has just been kicked out of boarding school for posessing marijuana. She can't (or better yet, won't) stay home because her father sexually abuses her which doesn't seem to bother her mother very much. So instead Lee heads off to Florida and returns to the world of competitive horse showing. Thus begins Lee's downward spiral into a brutal world filled with drugs, alcohol and violent sexual The content of the book may repel others, but not me. Lee is introduced as a troubled fifteen-year-old who has just been kicked out of boarding school for posessing marijuana. She can't (or better yet, won't) stay home because her father sexually abuses her which doesn't seem to bother her mother very much. So instead Lee heads off to Florida and returns to the world of competitive horse showing. Thus begins Lee's downward spiral into a brutal world filled with drugs, alcohol and violent sexual encounters. This destructive path seems to be all Lee will ever know as she struggles to find a balance between comfort and numbness. Although the book is powerfully honest and brutal I had problems more with the writing and character development. I suppose it just takes time to get used to how Heather Lewis wrote her novels. I admire the way she laid Lee's emotions and entire life bare for the reader to witness. It's just at the end of the book I didn't really feel like I knew Lee at all. And the entire world of show horses is completely unknown to me. I understand Lewis knew about it well and she certainly was able to show that through her words. I just wasn't able to picture any of the scenes in my head that contained the horses, which was a important thing to Lee. I did like the book though, it was so different and raw that I did have a problem putting it down. I will be reading more of Heather Lewis and I hope to become more compatible with her writing. I'd recommened House Rules to anyone that wants to read something from the dark side of humanity, the side everyone knows exists but never likes to think about. I promise it will stay with you long after you finish it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joe Stamber

    House Rules is a novel about show jumping... but probably not like any other novel about show jumping. The book is written in first person from the POV of 15 year old Lee, a talented rider who is desperate to keep away from her abusive father. Unfortunately, the people she falls in with from the show jumping fraternity aren't much better. Between the horse action (and Lewis does go into it in quite a bit of detail), the characters spend their time smoking, drinking, taking drugs and engaging in House Rules is a novel about show jumping... but probably not like any other novel about show jumping. The book is written in first person from the POV of 15 year old Lee, a talented rider who is desperate to keep away from her abusive father. Unfortunately, the people she falls in with from the show jumping fraternity aren't much better. Between the horse action (and Lewis does go into it in quite a bit of detail), the characters spend their time smoking, drinking, taking drugs and engaging in pretty brutal sex sessions. And that's just the women! Unfortunately, I found the story rather dull. It's a repetitive pattern of get up, smoke, ride horses, smoke, come home, smoke, drink, smoke, take drugs, smoke, engage in unusual (to me!) sexual practices, smoke, flake out... and repeat. There are some variations, but the structure remains basically the same. The trouble is that despite the first person narration, we never get very far into Lee's head. It's pretty obvious that her abusive upbringing has left her damaged and craving the wrong sort of attention, but her thoughts are always vague and the action is described in a matter-of-fact style that came across as flat and rather dreary. I should have cared what happened, but I didn't. In the end I became bored and hurried towards the end so that I could get it out of the way and pick up something else.

  15. 5 out of 5

    kate

    this is one of the weirdest and darkest books i've ever read. i'm not even sure how to rate it, honestly. the subject matter is horrifying, and i found myself getting really lost when lee was talking about the horse jumping world. it was like another language. after awhile, i just went with it, and realized i just wasn't going to get what she was talking about in those moments, though towards the end, some of it seemed to make more sense. it's hard to know the characters or know where they come f this is one of the weirdest and darkest books i've ever read. i'm not even sure how to rate it, honestly. the subject matter is horrifying, and i found myself getting really lost when lee was talking about the horse jumping world. it was like another language. after awhile, i just went with it, and realized i just wasn't going to get what she was talking about in those moments, though towards the end, some of it seemed to make more sense. it's hard to know the characters or know where they come from, but i think this was intentional. it was like being the fly on the wall of lee's teenage mind, which is what explains the lack of explanations there. her voice is very flat and numb, which, i guess is what she had to do to survive the abuse inflicted on her. the combination of the setting and the voice of the narrator was very odd to me and took some getting used to, but i found myself curious about what would happen to lee and was eager to understand her better.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    im not really sure what the point of this book was. i thought it was a lesbian s&m book, but the main character is freaking FIFTEEN! Can I talk about how wrong that is. She has sex with everyone in the book, male and female, is raped by her dad and has a sick sexual relationship with a woman her mothers age. This was just not a good book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jackie Mcmillan

    A visceral novel that draws you kicking & screaming into the world of competition show jumping where the only things more doped out than the horses are the riders. Painful, erotic, twisted and violent - left me with an indelible memory that has persisted for years. Sad the author is gone, because if this is her first novel, I would have loved to see what her tenth one looked like.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    Despite the star rating, I can't think of a single person I could recommend this book to without some major trepidation. Heather Lewis is a WRITER. It saddens me we won't get to see what else she could have done. I can't think of another book that both compelled and repulsed me on such a level. Tread careful.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bridget

    Heather Lewis was a powerhouse. I read this book while I was in Japan and it changed my world. I wanted very badly to write her a letter and composed one in my head multiple times. I never wrote it or sent it a few years later she killed herself. This saddens me immeasurably. This book made me interested in competitive horseback riding and to a lesser extent horse heroin. Yeah.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    I was torn between giving this book 2 or 3 stars 2 stars It was okay and 3 is I liked it. I wish I could give 2 1/2 stars. If you love horses or enjoy reading about drug abuse and sexual abuse you will really enjoy this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    ncn nothing

    the cover is misleading; don't pick up this book thinking it's sm erotica (like i did). however it's a good read, especially if you enjoy total immersion in an emotionally intense teenage subjectivity. plus, you'll be spouting technical details about competitive horse show culture for like a week.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Insane coming of age novel about incest, horsebackriding, and heroin.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    Amazing writing. So, so disturbing. Not an easy read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Veronica Olivo

    Man I have read this book at least 5 times!! I love it! It is a crazy look into head games, sex, and horses!!!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    Rainbow sticker was so promising! Book itself was a horribly let-down. Could barely finish the first two chapters. Ugh.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

    Respect author.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mia Siegert

    Incredibly accurate description of the show jumping world, chilling writing, very graphic sex scenes that were disturbing...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Diana

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Bachman

  30. 5 out of 5

    Inge Postma

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