Recollections of place evoke ghosts, shadows and nostalgia.
Peters (English/Stern Coll., Yeshiva Univ.) grew up in Wisconsin in a quirky house designed and built by her father. Perched on a hill overlooking woods and farms, the house reappears as the central image in the author’s lyrical memoir—not just of her family and childhood, but of her lifelong struggle to reconcile “the call to take root, the call to set forth.” After leaving Wisconsin, Peters lived in New York City, bringing with her expectations gleaned from movies, TV and, most of all, books. Her search for an apartment, for example, prompted memories of reading William Dean Howells’ A Hazard of New Fortunes; her walks down Fifth Avenue recalled Henry James’ The American Scene. Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, William Maxwell and, most movingly, New Yorker writer Maeve Brennan all hover, as Peters considers what place meant to them and how their rendering of homes, landscapes and cityscapes shaped her responses. Living on her own in New York, she moved often: Real estate became an obsession, and each space she inhabited became a text to parse. When newly married, she and her husband found a charming apartment in a Brooklyn brownstone, where Peters quickly steeped herself in the history of the building and the neighborhood. Although her mother exhorted her to “live in the healthy present,” Peters felt drawn powerfully to the past. “Before you even walk in a room, you’re remembering it,” her husband once remarked. The author confesses that her veneration of history has led to some “back in the day” complaining, but she has come to understand that despite attachment to a home or intimacy with a beloved landscape, she is, inevitably, a transient—“a steward, not an owner” of place.
Nostalgia is a complicated version of love, Peters reveals in this elegiac memoir, which can threaten to fade the vivid present to a sepia-toned past.