The Stager by Susan Coll

It takes roughly four to six minutes for prospective buyers to decide whether or not they like your home. Maybe they don’t like the color of the walls, your taste in decorations or your choice in monthly publications. These are all things that could cause potential buyers not to purchase your home, even though they are all things that can be changed about the house. This is where a stager comes in, or more importantly our stager, Eve Brenner. Eve is a stager working for Amanda, one of DC’s best realtors. As a stager she is employed to stage houses, change decor to make it more appealing to potential buyers and to depersonalize houses; basically all the things potential buyers apparently look for. However when she enters into a house in The Flanders neighborhood outside DC, she realizes it belongs to a long lost friend with whom she has lost touch.

Susan Coll’s newest literary achievement The Stager, stars four different points of view: Elsa, daughter of Bella and Lars, unrequited companion of Eve; Lars, husband to Bella, self obsessed and addicted to his anti-anxiety medications; Eve, former best friend of Bella and current stager of her glamourous Tudor and Dominique the rabbit, who goes missing in the first few pages of the novel. You see in the beginning of this tale Bella has just landed a promotion at her job, requiring her to uproot her husband, daughter and pet rabbit for a move across the narrow sea to England where she will be the V.P. of some important division in a more important large scale bank. Bella and Lars leave to asses the new house she has bought (which needs at least three skylights according to Lars and home decorator Jorek), leaving Elsa, her nanny Nabila and Eve to take care of their DC home. Eve spends the next week while they are in London “depersonalizing” their house to make it seem more homey to potential buyers. She hides their decorations; ones specifically scoured from parts of the globe to which the family has traveled. She paints the front door, cleans up Elsa’s room a dozen and a half times, only to realize after a few days in the house that she’s somehow landed herself in the house of her former best friend. Now it’s a battle against the clock and against 10 year old Elsa’s insistence for friendship for Eve to finish staging the house before Bella gets back from England and realizes she’s the stager.

The Stager is brilliantly written; Coll’s prose is the most readable thing I’ve read so far in 2014. It flows freely, akin to that of a literary thriller, but much more intelligently. Her varied perspective fits this story perfectly. About a third of the story comes from each Elsa, Lars and Eve, leaving only Bella’s perspective really a mystery, but she seems like a flat, bland character anyways. The beauty of The Stager at times can be just Dominique, the family’s pet rabbit. Although he has very little to do with the story, other than causing some of the problems that Eve has to clean up and Elsa obsessing over him, he’s the veritable hidden tapping foot that moves the story along. Amidst all the familial problems and issues with color coordination in the house, the reader will probably think: “I wonder what sort of trouble Dominique is getting into. Really, I wonder if he’s actually dead.” The Stager is quick and to the point making it one of the best novels of 2014.

Rating: 9/10 – The Stager is an absolutely wonderful piece of literature. Susan Coll does wonders in small form with a 270 page novel, taking us from Washington D.C. to Jakarta to London, telling a story about familial spats, friendship woes and a pet rabbit. This novel should be on everyone’s 2014 radar.

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