When my wife and I bought a century old house in a suburb of my beloved city, I knew I had to write about it. The experience of purchasing a home place, among the most common events in an adult's life, felt more cataclysmic than, well, buying a house ought to feel. Second to childbirth on the seismic charts of human emotion. Suspicious of any prolonged navel-gazing, I didn't intend a memoir. I began the story as a novel. I sent seventy-five pages to my agent who said, "I can't sell this as a novel, but I can as a memoir."
So I started over and what I discovered was that a house was inseparable from, and in many ways shaped by, the terrain on which it lived. This particular terrain was not just compelling to me, it was alive with ghosts of the past. The explosion of the suburbs in the late 18th and early 19th century was told in microcosm just outside my door. The families that had lived in this house told their own stories, all but forced themselves upon us, were still here. The contractors and real estate agents and house inspectors who moved through this structure added their own stories. And of course, the upper stratum of the narrative--the story of my family's life in the new structure, first as castaways on the third floor while the renovation was completed, and then as a miniature army of four advancing room by room, taking over foreign territory one front at a time and making it ours.
House: A Memoir is an attempt to order and make sense of all these stories.
It's also an answer to all the people who ask me why I still live in Cleveland. I never doubted the urge but I'd never explored the reason or understood the importance of living out my adult life in the place where I spent my childhood and adolescence, an increasing rarity in our vagabond culture. House: A Memoir is a love song to home, to the controversial notion of the suburb in America, to living where you grew up, to the history of this country and to the most contentious story of all, how we're using place in America.