PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni

What do you get when you combine the futuristic teachings of R. Buckminster Fuller with the proto-punk/metal music of the Misfits?

The House of Tomorrow

Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam
Length: 356 pages
Author: Peter Bognanni
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2010-03

What do you get when you combine the futuristic teachings of R. Buckminster Fuller with the proto-punk/metal music of the Misfits? Author Peter Bognanni seemingly has the answer, and offers it up in his debut novel for young adults, The House of Tomorrow.

The book is a coming-of-age tale about 16-year-old orphan Sebastian Prendergast, who lives with his grandmother in a geodesic dome on the fringes of a small town in Iowa. Sebastian’s existence is a very isolated one as he is homeschooled in Fuller’s philosophies by his Nana. He has never made contact with other people except when tourists come to visit the dome, and whenever he makes the infrequent trip into town on his bicycle to pick up supplies. He has almost never consumed a soft drink, and grilled cheese sandwiches are a mystery to him.

Things change, however, when the town-dwelling Whitcomb family comes to visit Sebastian’s home when his grandmother suddenly collapses from a stroke. Sebastian winds up befriending Jared Whitcomb -- a leather-jacket wearing teenager with a penchant for the Misfits, and a chronic cigarette smoker despite the fact that he has received a heart transplant only two years before. Before long, Sebastian finds himself leading a double life: torn between living up to the leadership plans Nana has set him up for as he matures to an adult, and the ragtag punk band called the Rash that he and Jared form with the intensions of electrifying a church-based talent show.

If the geodesic dome is the House of Tomorrow of the book’s title, then the Whitcomb family home is certainly the House of Yesterday. Jared only listens to classic punk music predating about 1985 or so, and his mother Janet is a devout conservative Methodist grappling with a marriage separation. His older sister Meredith is the epitome of the Catholic school girl: inviting strange boys into her room, but never progressing with them beyond some heavy petting sessions. This dichotomy between the two homes forms the pillars of the novel that Sebastian must navigate as he suddenly finds himself thrust from the sacred world of the dome into the somewhat secular and pop culture-riddled world of the Whitcomb household.

This ping-pong act would be a tremendous undertaking for any novice writer, but Bognanni has earned his chops based on his résumé. He is a 2008 Pushcart Prize nominee, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and his short story “The Body Eternal” was chosen by Stephen King as one of the “100 Most Distinguished Stories of 2006” in The Best American Short Stories (2007). His talents clearly extend to longer form storytelling, as The House of Tomorrow is a novel both richly rewarding and compellingly propulsive.

The main reward of the novel comes in the friendship between the two main characters. Sebastian is both suitably erudite beyond his years -- he has an advanced vocabulary full of $50 words -- as well as startlingly naïve; he knows very little about interacting with his peers, and knows next to nothing about girls. Jared, on the other hand, is both a gruff and brusque teenager, but one with a sensitive heart who is constantly afraid that he is about to lose his new best friend. That the two could get along and create a two-man punk band of guitar and bass is a testament to the charm of this book.

The House of Tomorrow shares some similarities to D.C. Pierson’s recently published The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To, in that both books were written by young authors, both are aimed at young adults, and both feature two best friends trying to make sense of a world where they are treated as outsiders. But where The Boy Who lapses into the world of science fiction and is unintentionally offensive, The House of Tomorrow is a more mature and touching book, and is certainly the better of the two. It makes some acute observations about the nature of punk music (“Punk bassists don’t really need to learn chords. Those are for bands that try too hard,” says Jared at one point), and is, on the whole, a more joyous and life-affirming novel.

Granted, there are minor problems with The House of Tomorrow. For one, it’s hard to buy the fact that Jared and Sebastian only explore punk music from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, bypassing emo and other divergent strains of punk that have emerged in recent years. It might have been better if Bognanni had simply set his story back 30 years ago, rather than the present day for that reason. The burgeoning love Sebastian feels for Meredith often feels contrived, considering that she takes on a big sister role for much of the latter half of the novel, making this aspect creepily incestuous. Plus, the novel dips into cloying sentimentality in its closing 50 pages, and the big climax is a little hokey.

Still, the novel is a pleasant and engaging read, and, while it won’t set cities aflame with rock ‘n' roll, it’s the kind of book that adults can enjoy as much as the older teenaged audience it shoots for. (There is some foul language in the book, mostly on Jared’s part, and there’s a sensual scene in which one of the main characters gets his hands on the breast of a half-naked lady.) The House of Tomorrow is a rollicking book that explores the passion and joy thrashing on a bunch of musical instruments brings, even poorly, and does so with a lot of heart, intelligence and literary precision.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.