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Classic review: House

The drama of house-building.

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[The Monitor occasionally reprints material from its archives. This review originally ran on Oct. 4, 1985.] Of all the material possessions we accumulate in a lifetime, none is more expensive, more important, or as active in the working of our memory as a house. Houses are castles or homes (or both), and they have generated homilies the way gardens generate weeds.

But before a house can become a home, it must, obviously, be built, and how a house is actually built – from conception to design to foundation to frame to finished dwelling – is the story of Tracy Kidder's exceedingly well-constructed new work of nonfiction, House.

Kidder assembles a cast of characters in the building of a house in central Massachusetts, near Amherst. In exploring their characters what emerges is not a matter-of-fact picture of so many blueprints, hammers, and nails, but a richly complex drama of human interaction with enough emotional energy to satisfy any playwright.

The owners of the house are Jonathan and Judith Souweine; he is a country lawyer (out of Harvard Law School) and she is a neuropsychologist. They have three children and are engaged both by them and by community politics.

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