Monday, March 12, 2007

Houses and Stories

So I've got houses on the brain this week--Rhian and I and our guys have grown out of our little place and are thinking of packing up and moving to something more spacious on the edge of town. Yesterday we took our first serious house tour.

We liked the house we looked at--it's old and has some land attached. But it wasn't until last night that I hit upon the thing that made it so appealing to me: it's like a house in a dream. Every room seems like it must be the last, but lo and behold, there's a little door in a corner where you're not expecting one; and there beyond it are more rooms. One noteworthy feature is an attached apartment, the product of a divison that appears to have been made a long time ago, and the way you get to it through the main part of the house is to go into a closet, then to duck through a little door in the back.

I have a special fondness for stories with distinctive houses in them; you could probably name as many great literary houses as characters. The House of Seven Gables, Northanger Abbey, Baskerville Hall, Howard's End, Manderley. (There is even a book about them, called Literary Houses.) Barbara Vine's latest, The Minotaur, a sort of neo-gothic thriller, has a great house in it, with a labyrinthine library that harbors dark secrets. And then there are the stranger houses: the one in Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, which I'm embarrassed to admit I've only read about, not read; or the vacation house with the hidden room in Don Delillo's The Body Artist, an imperfect book that I nevertheless am currently pillaging for my own novel-in-progress. There's a good house renovation at the beginning of Cory Doctorow's Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town, which I've also ripped off a bit, and a great childhood home in the interior of a mountain. The mountain that is, in fact, the protagonist's father.

Rhian has posted here somewhere, I think, that houses are metaphors for writing in her dreams; I'll go one further and say that I think they're more generally metaphors for creativity, for the structure of thought, the way it gets divided and sealed off, the way you have to walk through some of its rooms to get to some others.

And there are more rooms than you think. And walls can be knocked down, and new ones built. If we end up with the place we saw yesterday, though, we won't be knocking down anything. It's a writers' house, weird and mazy, just the way we like 'em.


5 Red Pandas said...

My friend Kate keeps a house renovation blog:

My best friend in jnr/senior high had an apartment that was like the house you describe. I always wished our apartment had secret doors, but the only thing it has is a sealed up dumbwaiter that is probably best left alone. The only interesting thing about our apartment building is the private Jewish prayer room in the basement, which is only accesible through a side door. Nobody in the building had access to it, but people in the neighborhood (mostly old men and women)go in and out by using a number code on the door.It sounds like a terrible stereotype, but it has something to do with my landlord. On some holidays, some of the people will congregate under our windows, and once I watched them singing toward the moon.

Anyway, the apartment my old friend grew up in was amazing. It opened up to a long hallway, sort of like a railroad apartment, except the rooms were on the left and right of the super long hallway. When you entered the apartment, to the left was the bathroom, and my friend's room. Opposite my friend's room was her grandmother's room. To the right was a storage room. Then down the hall to the right was the kitchen which opened up into the dining room, which had a hidden second bathroom. The dining room flowed into the livingroom. To the left of the kitchen was the parent's bedroom. Down the hall was the dad's painting studio, which also opened into the livingroom. You're thinking, wow, that must have cost a fortune, but it didn't because it was on the block right next to the George Washington Bridge. You have to keep your windows closed most of the time because of the exhaust.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man, I could write all day about the places we've apartment with millipedes living in the carpet...Rhian's old house where, every time you took a bath, you had to scrape the ENORMOUS MUSHROOMS off the gap between the tub and the wall...the apartment where a homeless guy was trying to live in the air duct...

I wonder if there's any correlation between the stuff I've written in my life, and the place I was living when I wrote it...