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A novel that finds humor in head lice

Created date

May 28th, 2014
NITS book cover
NITS book cover

In her debut novel NITS (Cinimod Press, 2014), author Michele Harris captures the competitive social scene of Washington, D.C., and somehow manages to tie together the main players through, of all things, head lice. Harris, a longtime Montgomery County resident, gets to the heart of suburban angst and explores the universal theme of pursuing happiness.

Each of the protagonists has to deal with the virulent head lice that’s spreading through his or her extended social circles, and author Harris brilliantly uses the lice to illuminate something about each of her main characters. 

Trio of leading characters

Leading the cast of main characters is Pups MacArthur, whose battle to eradicate head lice in her children’s school earns her the nickname, “the Lice Nazi.” In trying to control the spread of head lice, Pups loses a grip on her own family and must face the reality that, as much as she loves them, she’s lost touch with her husband and their children.

The leading man in the novel is named Wenn Mann, a high school Latin teacher who attempts to carve out his own identity separate from his privileged upbringing, but does so by teaching at his tony alma mater, an all-boys school called Washington Prep. As the mysteriously cool Latin teacher, Wenn tries to keep everyone at arm’s length but realizes that many of his decisions only further root him in the same social strata he was born into. 

The third in the trio of protagonists is Mary Ellen Packingham, a suburban mother who attempts to break into a higher social circle but feels held back by her husband’s blue-collar job, his colorful language, and their shaky financial situation. Although she uses her son’s admission to the exclusive Washington Prep to gain a foothold in the world of country clubs and sprawling suburban mansions, the façade she creates to be a part of that group eventually crumbles. 

Adding to the witty insights and universal truths, Harris infuses her novel with many references to life in and around Washington, D.C. Anyone who’s familiar with the D.C. metro area will be able to imagine the characters running on the Capitol Crescent Trail along the C&O Canal, strolling through the shops in Georgetown, driving along the leafy streets of Chevy Chase, or even playing tennis at Congressional Country Club (called the Presidential Club in the novel). Paired with this spot-on glimpse into D.C. life, however, is the universal message that trying to avoid problems is the quickest way to run right into them.

As Pups MacArthur says at the end of the novel, “Regardless of whether you’re moving forward, climbing up, or standing still, wrestling fate will never turn out the way you planned.” 

Readers will be left scratching their heads and wondering how Harris managed to use head lice to bring each character face-to-face with fate. 

You can find NITS at local bookstores and online at and