House of Sand and Fog Summary

Andre Dubus III

House of Sand and Fog

  • This summary of House of Sand and Fog includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

House of Sand and Fog Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature   detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III.

House of Sand and Fog (1999) is a novel by Andre Dubus III. In 2000, it appeared on Oprah’s Book Club list and was also a finalist for the National Book Award. In 2003, it was made into a feature film starring Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly.

The novel follows two people caught in a legal struggle over a house in Southern California. Kathy Nicolo, a recovering drug addict who has recently been left by her husband, is the original owner of the property; she is evicted over unpaid back taxes, not realizing until later that it is actually a case of mistaken identity. Kathy is forced to move out of the house by sheriff’s deputy Lester Burdon, who takes a liking to Kathy and helps her transport her things to a storage locker before getting her settled in a motel.

Meanwhile, Massoud Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian army who was exiled after the Iran-Iraq War, decides to buy Kathy’s house when it is put up for auction. Massoud and his family live fairly comfortably in the United States, but Massoud has not been able to secure a job in the aerospace industry since coming to the United States. Instead, he works two low-wage jobs as a member of a highway cleanup crew and at a convenience store, supporting his family on the savings he brought with him when he fled Iran.

Seeing Kathy’s house as a good investment, Massoud stakes his son’s college fund on it. He plans to move his family into the house while he renovates it, and then sell it at a profit later on. Quitting his two low-paying jobs, Massoud and his family are ready to move into the house right away.

At Lester’s suggestion, Kathy goes to visit a lawyer who uncovers the case of mistaken identity and files papers so that Kathy can get her home back. Kathy drives by her old house and sees workers repairing the roof. She climbs a ladder and yells at them to stop, but injures herself while doing so. The workers take Kathy downstairs where Massoud’s wife, Nadi, helps her wash and bandage her foot.

Since she can no longer afford to stay in the motel, Kathy begins sleeping in her car outside her old house. Massoud notices her there one night but does not confront her. He is beginning to feel more confident since buying the house, as though he is reclaiming the power he lost when he was exiled from his country and lost his command in the army.

Presently, Kathy’s lawyer receives the paperwork related to her case. Massoud refuses to give back the house unless he is paid the full value for it rather than the pittance he paid for it at auction. In retaliation, Kathy goes to Massoud’s house and tries twice to commit suicide, first by shooting herself and then by overdosing on pills. Massoud and Nadi stop her both times, putting her in one of the bedrooms to rest while they contact the police.

The first officer to arrive, Lester breaks into the house with the intention of helping Kathy. He threatens Massoud, Nadi, and their son, Esmail, at gunpoint until they agree to give the house back to Kathy. He then arranges for Massoud and Nadi to come into the county office to sign the paperwork.

Esmail retrieves Kathy’s gun with the intention of defending his family, but he is shot by the authorities who have arrived to provide backup for Lester. Esmail is rushed to the hospital but dies soon after. Massoud, overcome by grief, returns home and finds Kathy still there, largely unaware of what has happened. Massoud strangles her until he thinks that she is dead, and then he puts on his old army uniform. He goes into the bedroom where Nadi is sleeping, incapacitated by a migraine.

Massoud writes a will, leaving everything to his married daughter Soraya. Then he uses supplies from the garage to build a plastic chamber around himself and Nadi, suffocating them while they sleep.

Lester confesses everything to the police and is taken into custody for kidnapping Massoud and his family. He knows that Esmail’s murder will make his sentence longer.

Kathy awakens in the hospital. She cannot speak because of the damage to her throat. When she finds out that Lester is in jail, she does not want to build a case for her own innocence if it will make him appear guiltier. Kathy’s mom and brother visit her for the first time since she became addicted to drugs, but rather than speak to them, Kathy wanders into the recreation room and begins to pantomime asking for a cigarette.