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Classic review: House

The drama of house-building.

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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.

The house they are planning to build, as "House'' opens, is designed by their friend, Bill Rawn, a Renaissance man if ever there was one, who has been, at various times in his life, a successful corporate lawyer, a printmaker represented by the Pace Gallery, but who has forsaken all that at age 40 for a career as an architect. It is his first house.

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