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House Arrest: A Novel

Home care nurse Emily Klein usually loves her work. But her new assignment – prenatal visits to a young woman under house arrest for the death of her toddler daughter during a Solstice ceremony – makes her uneasy. Maybe it’s Pippa Glenning’s odd household and the house arrest monitor. Or the court involvement that reminds Emily of her parents’ political activism and her father’s imprisonment. But when she can’t get out of the assignment, Emily is determined to do right by her high-profile and unconventional patient.

Pippa’s racially mixed Family of Isis is in turmoil. Without Tian – the cult leader and Pippa’s lover who is in jail awaiting trial for the deaths of two toddlers – the group struggles to keep the household and their Tea Room business functioning. If Pippa follows the rules of her house arrest, she may be allowed to keep her baby, but as the pregnant woman in the family it’s her duty to dance for Isis at the upcoming winter Solstice ceremony. To escape the house arrest without being caught, she needs Emily’s help.

Despite their differences, Emily and Pippa’s friendship grows. Emily’s friends – her cousin Anna with whom she lives, Anna’s ex-husband Sam who shares in caring for their young daughter Zoe who has spina bifida, her best friend Gina – all warn Emily that Pippa is trouble. When her grandfather dies, Emily reluctantly agrees to accompany Anna to the island in Maine where she was sent to live when her father went to prison. On the island, Emily begins to grapple with her parents’ choices a generation earlier.

At home the media hypes the Frozen Babies Case. Anti-cult sentiment in the city escalates to angry protests and increasing violence. As the winter Solstice approaches, both Emily and Pippa make decisions about their responsibilities to their families, their communities, and to each other – decisions that put their lives, and Pippa’s unborn baby – in jeopardy.

Set in Springfield, Massachusetts and on an island in Penobscot Bay, the story is told from the alternating points of view of Emily, Pippa, Sam, and Gina. House Arrest explores the necessity of sometimes breaking rules to serve justice.

“In this strong first novel, an unusual relationship develops between a home-care nurse and the pregnant cult member under house arrest to whom she is assigned prenatal visits... Meeropol's work is thoughtful and tightly composed, unflinching in taking on challenging subjects and deliberating uneasy ethical conundrums.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In this suspenseful, richly plotted novel, Ellen Meeropol explores the moral complexities of politics and medicine as they intersect with the private sphere of family. She is acutely sensitive to the nuances of long-suppressed sorrow and regret; with equal insight, she successfully immerses the reader in a wide range of characters. House Arrest is smart, provocative, and moving."
–Julia Glass, The Widower's Tale

"What drives Ellen Meeropol's compelling debut is an essential moral question about what a family sacrifices when a parent lives according to higher political ideals. What keeps you reading are Meeropol's astutely observed diverse cast of characters who draw you into their dilemmas, their world, and most importantly their heartaches."
–Heidi W. Durrow, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

“... an original, riveting, and suspenseful yet warm and sensitive story that deftly explores the concepts of right and wrong, the unequal balance between rigid law and common sense, the unintended consequences of political activism, and the decisions people make when faced with tough life choices.”
–William D. Bushnell, The New Maine Times

“Meeropol raises bold questions and allows her handful of main characters to debate the merits: What constitutes a family, and who decides which variations qualify? When is it acceptable to bend the rules, and at what expense? Is it possible to separate actions from consequences? ... [T]he central characters weigh in at various points along the moral spectrum. Still, for all the judgments they render, the book is uncommonly generous. Meeropol seems to suggest that moral clarity comes not from blind certainty, but from depths of doubt and questioning, which are nearly palpable in Emily and others. And yet, the story never bogs down, thanks to the ongoing suspense of Pippa's fate and the interplay of so many vividly-drawn characters. Factor in Meeropol's effortless style, and an intricate tale becomes almost a referendum on free will. This multi-genre novel defies easy classification. Part medical mystery, morality tale and psychological drama, it's above all a terrific read.”
–Joan Silverman, The Portland Press Herald

“Ellen Meeropol’s courageous debut novel explores what it means to live by the principle of compassion, even in defiance of the rules and the rule-makers. It is about the power of ceremony, the hard road to healing, survival and transcendence in the face of unbearable loss. Meeropol, herself a longtime nurse and activist, brings an authentic voice to this moving tale of the ethical and political choices faced by health care practitioners, and by all of us.”
–Martín Espada, The Republic of Poetry

“I didn't plan to do so, but I read it straight through until I got to the end. Only then did I realize that this is the sort of novel I've been wanting to read for a very long time. Not just because it is a great story that is beautifully written (I love literary fiction), but also because the characters and their lives are so far afield from the configurations we have come to expect, such as the married parents with their two physically perfect children, living in a single-family home. ... House Arrest offers a sophisticated and nuanced approach to questions I like to ponder: How does friendship develop and what determines whether a friendship sticks or comes undone? When is deception warranted in order to protect another person - or is it? How can we live fully and meaningfully outside of the usual boxes that are offered up to us?”
–Bella DePaulo,

House Arrest probes with insight and sympathy two harrowing questions that will always be with us: How do we forgive others and how do we forgive ourselves? Whether the pain Ellen Meeropol’s characters confront arises from ill-considered political action or more intimate irresponsibility, she knows that guilt and retribution cause searing wounds, but she has built a fascinating story about the unquenchable promise of healing.”
–Rosellen Brown, Before and After

“In her debut novel, Ellen Meeropol tells an unforgettable story about loyalties and the ties that bind us – and break us. Read it.”
–Ann Hood, The Red Thread

“The characters in House Arrest lead rich, complicated lives. Ellen Meeropol has written an intelligent, heartfelt, challenging novel that offers no easy answers and stays with the reader long after the final page has been turned.”
–Lesléa Newman, A Letter to Harvey Milk