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The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home Paperback – June 8, 2004
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From The New Yorker
In 1903, the author's great-grandfather, a Boston Brahmin named Edward W. Atkinson, built his family a house on Cape Cod, at Wings Neck, the last undeveloped peninsula overlooking Buzzards Bay. The Big House, as this multi-storied conglomeration of gables, dormers, and bays came to be called, included "eleven bedrooms, seven fireplaces, and a warren of closets, cupboards, and crannies that four generations of Wings Neck children have used for games of Sardines." It was also an expensive firetrap with sixty-seven windows in need of attention, leaking roofs, wildlife procreating in its walls, and no indoor shower. In 1992, after agonized debate, the family decided to put it on the market. Colt's account, like the house that lies at its center, is full of surprises and contains more than seems humanly possible: a family memoir, a brief history of the Cape, an investigation of nostalgia, a catalogue of local fauna, a study of class, and a meditation on the privileges and burdens of the past.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
David Halberstam What a wonderful book. George Howe Colt has taken an original idea -- over four generations a house is a family and a family is a house -- and turned it into an uncommon success, becoming in the process the writer as family archaeologist. It's a book that stands in a line with The Late George Apley and The Proper Bostonians.
Adam Hochschild From the beautiful opening pages onward, you know you are in the hands of a masterful writer -- observant, subtle, eloquent at evoking the memories and feelings that rise up when our adult selves and childhood memories meet. But The Big House is more than that; George Howe Colt brings to life several generations of an entire extended family, and the reader, like someone growing from childhood to adulthood and like the reader of a fine novel, gradually learns that this book's charmed, alluring world is far more complex than it first appears.
Alec Wilkinson The Big House is about the long, slow separation from the beautiful past -- in this case a shingled house by the ocean, which Colt's ancestors built and his family occupied in the summer for generations. He writes gracefully, with restraint and deep feeling, and his book is a rare accomplishment.
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc This book is a true thing -- a careful opening into the rooms of origin, a meditation on loss and loving, a tender exploration of the mysteries of family. That George Howe Colt is a poet makes us especially lucky to be privy to his keen and generous company. In the fullness of a narrative fantastic with stories of his extraordinary ancestry, he honors what is precious without sentimentality, expresses intimacy without self-absorption, his wisdom rooted in humor and humility. I read it by my father's bedside as he lay dying, and felt safe inside this special book. Even more, I felt the steadying wonder of life.
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Author George Howe Colt started coming to the Big House as a child in the 1950s. He writes with love about this rather run-down place that was so enchanting for a young boy, telling the history of the house and his ancestors who built it.
But he gradually peels the layers of the story like an onion so before long we find out the very human story of this family, which seems perfect on the outside but is just like the rest of us close up. In 1967, something happens to the Colt family--and they are never the same. It is here we meet the real people with their heartbreaking problems: alcoholism, mental illness, marital woes and family estrangement.
If you have ever had the fortune to spend time in a summer home or wondered who lived in those big houses--be it on Cape Cod or anywhere else in the United States--read this book. Highly recommended!
assess what is there and catalogue/donate/pitch things??? Whatever, it is amazing that one family could keep a large home in one piece and in their possession for nearly 100 years. I have to hand it to them.