The Irresistible Henry House Essay - Critical Essays

Lisa Grunwald

Literary Criticism and Significance

Lisa Grunwald is the author of five novels including The Irresistible Henry House as well as various writings for Life and Esquire magazines. She was inspired to write this story by a photograph of an actual Practice House baby. The book has received rather tepid reviews, and one reporter in particular found the story to be quite far fetched. Overall, most enjoyed the coming-of-age story and Grunwald’s writing.

The book has also been compared with the movie Forest Gump because of Henry’s cultural encounters with John Lennon, Julie Andrews, and others. Publisher’s Weekly chose it as a Pick of the Week and reported the following:

With cameos by Dr. Benjamin Spock, Walt Disney and John Lennon, and locations ranging from a peaceful college campus to swinging 1960s London, Grunwald nails the era just as she ingeniously uses Henry and the women in his life to illuminate the heady rush of sexual freedom (and confusion) that signified mid-century life.

Schillinger, reviewing it for The New York Times, saw the novel more as a statement about the women in Henry’s life, especially Martha, than a coming-of-age story about Henry. He wrote:

As Grunwald's thoughtful novel suggests, babies weren't the only participants in the behavioral experiments of the last century: the caregivers were also guinea pigs. And 'contact comfort' takes two.

Writing for Library Journal, Jan Blogett described Grunwald’s novel as

a compelling web of characters and emotions that will please the author's fans and readers interested in novels with emotional depth.

Elaine Showalter from The Washington Post was one reporter who found the story far-fetched and “implausible.” She said:

It's hard to accept that receiving the adoring, if scientifically scheduled, care of many mothers instead of one would be so traumatic for a baby, and Henry seems a very pallid, passive and self-centered figure to attract so much devotion from women and girls.

While many reviews are favorable, they are only mildly so—many feel the story does not delve deeply enough into the characters, Henry and Martha especially.