Peters, Ann.” House Hold: A Memoir of Place”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.
Have you ever thought about the real definition of “home” and how many times that definition changes while the word stays the same. I believe that like Tennessee Williams once said that memory is triggered by one of two things—music and place. We might not remember the facts about something but we usually can remember where something happened and the music that we heard. Place is such an important part of our lives that even though we may want to ignore it, it is impossible to do so and I bet every person can name every place he has called home.
Ann Peters tells us about home first by taking us to the house her father built in eastern Wisconsin to her home, an apartment in Manhattan, then a Brooklyn brownstone. I began to think about what is in our mind when we say, “Let’s go home” and as we know a house is not always a home. Peters takes us to that Wisconsin house where she was raised and then grew up and she is reminded of her father. This is where her life started and this was the place she left for a home somewhere else. And there were more homes for the writer—an old farmhouse in upper New York State, twenty years in apartments in New York and a cabin in Colorado.
I found this book to be so moving that I felt my eyes filling with tears as I read. Peters also manages to bring her love for literature with her love of places and she seems some of the places in literary terms. She writes of “Henry James, Willa Cather, William Dean Howells, Paula Marshall, William Maxwell, and others” and as she does she is reminded of events in her own life. Peters also tells that nostalgia is not always good even when it is connected to place. We see that it is not just our parents that make us who we are but it is also places we have lived and/or visited. In fact she even says that
Peters reflects on the romance of pastoral retreat, the hazards of nostalgia, America’s history of expansion and land ownership, and the conflicted desires to put down roots and to hit the road. Throughout House Hold, she asks us how places make us who we are. Do we need to have a place to call home if we want to live an authentic life and if we want to belong somewhere? Then there are places that we feel we belong in but know that we never will belong. While I am not sure that all of us can tells our lives the way Peters does, most of us should be able to remember the important places in our lives. This is not just the story of the author’s life; it is also the story of the places she has lived.
Peters also thinks about America in this book that is a memoir of landscapes and a thoughtful look at our country. I do not remember being so enrapt in a book before and I recommend it strongly. You may never look at yourself or the place you live in the same way.