Professor book reviews: "The House of Tomorrow" by Peter Bognanni

By Colleen Good

The House of Tomorrow, the debut novel by Macalester English professor and alumus Peter Bognanni, is a book that mixes the antiquated futurism of R. Buckminster Fuller with the modern angst of punk rock. The book took Bognanni two and a half years to write, and takes place in a made-up town in his native state of Iowa.”I know the kind of texture of life there. I know a lot of funny, sort of quirky small-town things that I wanted to write about,” Bognanni said.

The novel is about a boy named Sebastian Prendergast, a 15-year-old orphan being raised by his grandmother Nana in a geodesic dome on the outskirts of town. Living in a geodesic dome isn’t the oddest thing about Sebastian’s childhood-homeschooled by his eccentric grandmother in the futurist philosophic teachings of Fuller, Sebastian has experienced very little typical to the American teenager. Junk food and pop culture are a mystery to him. The only real contact he has with the outside world is the occasional tourist visiting the dome.

When the Whitcombs come for a tour, however, Sebastian’s sheltered existence is shattered. After his Nana suffers from a stroke, he goes to live with the Whitcombs and makes fast friends with Jared, a 16-year-old chain-smoker recovering from a heart transplant. Jared introduces him to punk rock, and through the classic songs of bands like the Misfits and the Sex Pistols, Sebastian begins to come into his own.

When Sebastian and Jared form a band, the Rash, he is faced with a tough decision: continue living his punk rock dream, or help fulfill his ailing grandmother’s wish that he spread the word of Fuller to the masses. He ends up figuring out a compromise that allows him to feel like he is honoring his grandmother’s memory, while still being true to himself.

Though the book was only released recently, the whole process took about five years, from pen to print, so Bognanni says it “actually feels really old to me now.”

The title is multifaceted, Bognanni said. “Number one it’s the name of the tourist attraction that’s in the book, but it’s also–it’s kind of a retro future phrase. . People would say, ‘this of tomorrow’ or ‘that of tomorrow,’ and I liked that idea because the characters are stuck in that idea of the future that never came to be,” he said.

The cover is simple-an anatomically-correct heart in pink and black.

“I think that it’s supposed to look a little inspired by punk rock poster art,” Bognanni said. “And something like an anatomical heart, I think, would fit right in with that. It’s sort of grotesque, for lack of a better word, bad-ass imagery. And then at the same time, it has that double-meaning with the actual heart that Jared’s had replaced. So I think it’s playing on both motifs there.

“Also, people keep saying that there’s a lot of heart in the book. And I don’t know if they’re just looking at the cover and then saying that–there’s a lot of heart on the book, so there’s a lot of heart in the book, but I feel like when I was writing it, I was sort of concerned about that, and that despite all the anger of punk rock, I also wanted there to be a lot of tenderness in the book. So, to me, the anatomical heart plays into that. It’s both a little bit grotesque, but then, at the same time, it nods to the fact that there is some kind of tenderness and attention to the relationships between these characters that are meaningful.