A Love Letter to Art and Queer West Philly

a graphic of the cover of Housemates a graphic of the cover of Housemates

Housemates by Emma Copley Eisenberg

I first discovered Emma Copley Eisenberg with The Third Rainbow Girl, a genre-defying nonfiction book that’s part memoir, part true crime, and part history. Now, Copley Eisenberg is back with her debut novel, Housemates.

Bernie answers an ad for a room for rent and joins Leah and their other housemates in their home in West Philadelphia. Both Bernie, a photographer, and Leah, a writer, struggle to find direction for their art. They each find a listening ear in the other, and their relationship begins to bloom.

When Bernie’s photography mentor dies, Bernie and Leah head out on a road trip to rural Pennsylvania to deal with Bernie’s part of the estate. Along the way, Bernie takes photographs while Leah writes short bits of copy to give the photographs some context. The two 20-something artists find themselves in an artistic partnership that defies definition, a creative collaboration aimed at shedding light on the complex cultures of broader Pennsylvania.

Housemates is a love letter to the queer scene of West Philly, in equal parts critiquing and poking fun in the best possible way. Bernie and Leah’s story asks big questions about art, its creation, and its consumption. Eisenberg explores ideas around class and art, including the financial requirements to have the space to make good art. Who gets to tell their story? Whose art will be appreciated, and whose will be overlooked?

Audie winner and AudioFile Golden Voice Marin Ireland narrates the audiobook. Ireland doesn’t over-perform the text. Instead, she uses her straightforward performance to make the story shine. With her narration, Bernie and Leah come alive, giving listeners new insights into their characters.

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