A Family Institution by Howard Reiss

A Family Institution by Howard Reiss

A Family Institution

A Family Institution

This novel was recently ranked #54 on Amazon (paid) in the Historical Fiction category and #78 on Amazon (paid) in the Mystery category.
It has more than 26 customer reviews on Amazon with an average review of 4.6 stars. More than 900 people have added it to their “to-read” list on Goodreads. In addition, the novel was a finalist in the 2012 Indie Reader Discovery Awards.

The cover of this novel was designed by a well-known artist/illustrator, Michael C. Witte whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, TIME, Harper’s, Rolling Stone, Forbes, Fortune, Money, Business Week, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine and more.

Readers’ Favorite says:
“Howard Reiss is able to deftly weave story into sustenance and create a plot that is beautifully original without straying too far from classic themes of this sort of genre.”

The Midwest Book Review says:
The Year of Soup, as with his first novel A Family Institution, clearly establishes Howard Reiss’ credentials as an especially gifted storyteller with a knack for creating fully developed characters and original storylines that engage the readers complete attention from first page to last.”
“A frank novel of family and what binds us all through our troubles, A Family Institution is a choice pick for general fiction collections.”

Readers have called this novel “disturbingly enjoyable,” “strongly recommended,”  “thrilling to read” and more. A college professor recently called the writing “lyrical, poetic and just beautiful.”

About the Author

Howard R ReissHoward Reiss’ first novel, A Family Institution, published in 2011


Howard Reiss’ second novel, The Year of Soup was inspired by a dinner at a small restaurant in Northampton, Mass. when an old professorial looking gentlemen with a bottle of wine in a paper bag sat down at a table in the corner and was immediately joined by the young, female proprietor and chef. Although he couldn’t hear their conversation, he tried to imagine it and their stories as well. This novel received the Silver Medal for Best Fiction in the North-East Region at the Independent Publisher Book Awards in 2013.

Howard Reiss’ first novel, A Family Institution, published in 2011, was based on a true incident involving the discovery of an aunt hidden from the family who spent most of her life in Pilgrim State Hospital. The main character’s quest for the truth about what happened takes him to Pilgrim State where he takes a job in the records department, learns a lot about how the mentally ill and, in particular, his aunt was treated in the 1950s, and in the process turns his life and family upside down. It’s a serious subject approached with a strong comic touch and has been a growing favorite of book clubs around the country.

Howard Reiss is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia Law School. He won writing prizes at both institutions, but confined his creative energies for the first 25 years after graduation to designing greeting cards and writing songs for his wife and daughters on the guitar. He also wrote a law book, which sat proudly on his parents’ coffee table. Howard helped found a soup kitchen in Nyack, New York where he lives and runs, supports book publishers by buying more books than he can possibly find the time to read, and is somewhere north of 50.  @HoRoReFacebook  HowardReissAuthor


By Amy Edelman on August 23, 2012

Format: Paperback

“Nothing passed quicker than a life filled with routine.” So it is with Ira Portnoy in the 1980’s, a 41 year-old ad man living with his wife, Ellen, and their kids, Jaime and Scott.

Ira’s mom, Selma, and his aunt, Sarah still figure significantly in his life, one of routine piled upon routine. It would seem that Ira is content. Repeatedly referred to as a wimp, Ira’s inaction and lack of fury, when it seems warranted, certainly support that description.

Until one day Ira discovers that he had another aunt, Eva, who at age twelve was sent to an asylum by his recently deceased grandmother. Eva died there, and his mother and aunt had kept that secret from him all these years.

A Family Institutioncenters Ira’s quest to discover what happened to his Aunt Eva. In the process, Ira watches his perfectly organized life unravel. In order to find out what happened, Ira essentially takes leave from his family and job to accept a temporary position at Pilgrim State, where Eva was kept. There in the records department, where longtime employee Shirley, an especially well-drawn character, assists him with her memory, Eva’s mystery is solved and Ira is shocked by what he discovers. A good amount of information about historical approaches to dealing with mental illness in these hospitals is included and frightening to read

Meanwhile Ira meets Rhonda, who seduces him with what seems to be little effort. They travel to Atlantic City where Ira loses control at the tables, losing–to him–what seems to be a small fortune. Ira can’t stop himself and his old, ordered life begins to feel like a mirage.Read more ›

By reader9283 on December 30, 2011

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

What an incredibly well written novel! The author’s examination of the treatment of mentally ill in the early 20th century is both informative and incredibly interesting. The storyline moves swiftly and is so entertaining that it seems impossible to put the novel down. The characters are easily identifiable so much so that you feel these people and families could easily be your own. This novel comes highly recommended!!

By Sherrilee on December 5, 2011

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

I just finished reading this book and loved it. Once I got into the book, I could not put it down. The characters come alive and I felt like I knew them all–a friend, a family member, a work colleague. The author does a great job in making you care about the characters and keeps you coming back wanting to know how their lives turn out. A funeral of a beloved grandmother sets off a series of events that will change Ira’s life. Just as in real life, one random moment can alter life’s course. Ira’s discovery of a long held family secret does just that, at least for a while.
When he is unsuccessful in pushing his secretive family for answers to the mystery he has uncovered, Ira sets off on his own journey of discovery which takes him away from his comfortable middle class life with his wife and two kids in the burbs, to a mental hospital and a dingy transient apartment shared with a bleached blond lonely but kind nurse. His quest for some answers leads him to even more questions and unravels what he thought he knew about himself and his family but then ultimately leads him to some self-evident truths that were in fact always constant and true.
In addition to loving the story, the author does a great job outlining the little known (at least to me) details about the treatment of the mentally ill throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. This historical family novel is most definitely a page-turner and will not disappoint.
To buy or see more of A Family Institution by Howard Reiss click Amazon.com



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