DREAM HOUSE by Joe Coomer


On Building a House by a Pond
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 Convoluted and cutesy chronicle of how Coomer (along with his wife, friends, father, and subcontractors) built his own house. Coomer (Kentucky Love, 1985; The Decatur Road, 1983) began his Victorian dream house at age 28; the garage apartment that he shared with his wife was too small to hold their books and antiques. Fortunately, his father offered him a plot on his Texas farm and also owned a lumberyard. Coomer began his part of the job by digging the footings with his wife, and finished with moving in their furniture. Scattered throughout his reportage are essays on such subjects as: his grandparents; why he writes; his memory; his time spent living in New Jersey; the unique book he is writing. Besides slowing the narrative, many of these digressions seem irrelevant to the story at hand. Curiously, for a writer and housebuilder, Coomer appears uninterested in the argot and processes of the building trades: When a concrete crew lays his slab, he calls their bull floats ``long tampers on poles,'' their screeds ``a sixteen-foot metal two-by-four,'' and a power float ``a rotary smoother.'' Misinformation is common here: Coomer describes his father as practicing ``one more lost art'' while he sweats copper pipe (the standard technique worldwide). Coomer pays others to do the concrete, the blockwork, the sheetrock (because of the ``general distastefulness of the task''), and the taping (which ``will require an artist's hand''), but enjoys carpentry. ``I can play with a level for hours, and a self-retracting tape measure has to be one of the greatest toys ever invented,'' he says. Thoreau is cited often, and is trivialized: ``I wonder if he ever smashed his thumb and for lack of a better curse yelled out, `Emerson!' '' For a more perceptive how of housebuilding, turn to Tracy Kidder's House or David Owen's The Walls Around Us; for a why, there's always Walden.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-571-12907-2
Page count: 195pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1992


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