The book is aptly titled. It’s about building a house. Owner, architect, builders. Their relationships, their life histories, their attitudes. Kidder also explores the history of American architecture, of American building of American contracts, and of American litigation over all those. You find out quite a lot about the relationship between prices and forestry and enter the world of master craftsmen as they strive to do proud work and still make a little money in an environment where forces conspire to pay them only a little money.
It’s a fascinating plot, and anyone who has been through even a remodeling project will identify with the various crises and conflicts and choices that confront these souls attempting to build a nice new house outside Amherst, Mass. The only thing I missed were tales of the permit and inspection process. Of course, this book is set in 1983 Massachusetts, so perhaps it wasn’t worth mentioning (because it certainly wasn’t mentioned except twice, with no blowback.), however, any project I’ve been around personally, and many projects my plumbing contractor sister has been connected with spends reams of time, paper, and cash trying to satisfy the demands of city-office martinets who act like they’re first responders saving the planet from an invasion of aliens. But this is here and now, that was then and there, and if Kidder didn’t write about it, it must not have happened. All that did happen makes for a well-turned tale, and Kidder’s prose keeps the reader absorbed throughout.