Howard is an amateur carpenter and former electrician's assistant, a woodshop tinkerer with little professional experience, who decides to design and construct a house for his growing family. More important, though, he's a writer, and a good one. There are no grand gestures or flourishes here, no clever turns of phrase; his style is simple and comfortable, as I imagine his home must now be. Taking us through the unbelievably complex year-and-a-half-long process, from design to framing, roofing, installing dry wall, trimming, flooring, wiring, plumbing, plastering, cabinet making, and painting, he makes every part of it not only clear but suspenseful (I found myself peeking at a picture of the finished house near the end of the book). Howard is also a good-humored storyteller: a single defining two-word sentence about the man who digs the foundation made me laugh out loud.
This is a book in which hard work is solidly done. Backbreaking days spent framing and roofing are described without a note of complaint. Although they are both self-employed writers, there's no poormouthing in House-Dreams, either, though the couple's late-night anxieties--as winter closes in, as the closing date on their old house draws near--are rarely glossed over. The Howards' financial maneuverings are presented quietly, as evidence that even mind-bogglingly huge tasks can be accomplished, a well-built home can be made, on a limited budget. Though Howard built almost every part of the house himself, with the help of a dry-witted college student from Scotland in the summer and a laid-off landscaper in the off-season, he knew enough to bring in professionals for the jobs with which he was relatively unfamiliar. An enthusiastic local stonemason is hired to make an old-style Rumford fireplace and a Russian grubka (a masonry wood stove in which a fire started in the morning burns intensely for a short time, leaving the brick and stone to radiate heat for the rest of the day). A dreamy and mysterious transplanted Irish landscaper informs the Howards--as it's happening--that he's building a ha-ha at the edge of the lawn, and that over in the woods he'll be putting in "an abandoned tennis court ... a grass one, gone to seed." With only a little hesitation, the Howards, to their credit, decide that suits them just fine.
The local craftsmen in Howard's narrative, though they must have scoffed at his reading and rereading of Palladio, Wright, and Coleridge for inspiration, are sympathetic to his desire to build a house that occupies a certain place in the architectural timeline, one that is of a piece with the land on which he and his family have chosen to put down roots. Recognizing, through Howard's winningly modest account, these tough men's silent approval, and their admiration for the work he's done, is one of the greatest pleasures of House-Dreams. --Liana Fredley
From Publishers Weekly
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