10 Literary Houses That Host Family Stories and Buried Secrets
As I sit in my windowless room in my Brooklyn apartment and realize just how many episodes of “Tiny House Nation” I’ve streamed in a row, I wonder whether it would be better to turn my obsession with houses to the page. Surely fiction allows us to explore houses with secrets in the attics, walls steeped in history, homes to unclaimed orphans—and even a ghost or two? For those moments when HGTV’s French-windowed balconies and sweeping ranchland views become a little too much to bear, satisfy your “house-hunger”—with all its attendant views and buried secrets—with these novels.
1The House Girl
Tara Conklin’s debut novel alternates storylines between Josephine, an enslaved 17-year-old in 1852 Virginia, and Lina, a modern-day NYC lawyer working on a slavery reparations case. A beautifully written dive into history, morality, and secrets, this tale really takes off once Josephine takes her fate into her own hands by leaving home in search of freedom.
2House of Sand and Fog
Accolades including National Book Award finalist, Oprah Book Club pick, #1 New York Times bestseller, and inspiration for an Oscar-nominated film—are all reason enough to grab this gripping portrait of American realism. In it, a picturesque bungalow becomes the fighting ground for a colonel trying to restore his family’s dignity, a woman desperate to hold on to her home, and the man willing to do anything to win her love.
The house in the meticulously penned HAUSFRAU isn’t so much the building itself—it’s the emotional prison that the titular wife builds for herself after starting a family with her Swiss husband in the less-than-warm embrace of Zurich. She tries to escape through German classes, love affairs, and therapy, but her situation begins to spiral out of control. A totally engrossing read for anyone who wants a modern MADAME BOVARY.
4The Kitchen House
An orphaned, white indentured servant straddles dangerously different worlds in her plantation home between the enslaved black family who raised her in the kitchen and a place in the big house given by virtue of her skin color. With torn loyalties, rich history and a stirring plot, it’s easy to see why this is a regular book club pick.
5The Little House on the Prairie
Many people haven’t actually read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of growing up in the 19th-century Midwest—they’ve probably had the series read to them. LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE is actually the third of eight novels fictionalizing Wilder’s childhood growing up in a pioneer family, and it features the first house the family builds after leaving Wisconsin looking for bigger and better opportunities.
In Charles Dickens’s most complex and well-plotted novel, one of its unforgettable characters is the house itself, where an illegitimate daughter is raised in the shadow of a seemingly never-ending court case that criticized the English Chancery court system. First published as serialized chapters, reading them together was basically the 19th-century equivalent of binge-watching.
7The Turner House
In this masterful debut novel, 13 siblings must decide the fate of their mother’s Detroit home, which housed the family for 50 years before mirroring the disarray and crisis of the city around them by falling into debt and misfortune. Secrets, addiction, and even a malevolent spirit all work against the siblings, but in the end Angela Flournoy shows how it takes more than walls to keep a family together.
8The House at Riverton
In the summer of 1924, at a glittering society party held at the Riverton House, a young poet shoots himself. Only three witnesses—the Hartford family’s servant, Grace, and the Hartford sisters, Hannah and Emmeline—know the truth. Kate Morton’s gorgeous debut is full of secrets, some revealed, others hidden forever.
10The Two-Family House
Helen and Rose are more than best friends: sisters-in-law in a two-family house with their husbands and growing brood of children (Helen’s four boys and Rose’s three daughters), their lives intertwine on a daily and intimate basis as they share everything from holidays to their innermost hopes and dreams. When both become pregnant and even go into labor on the same snowy night, there seems to be more cause for celebration between them. But something happened when the blizzard babies were born, and the longer the two families live together in the brownstone, the more it haunts everyone.