Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SEX AND REAL ESTATE by Marjorie Garber

SEX AND REAL ESTATE

Why We Love Houses

By Marjorie Garber

Pub Date: July 5th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-42054-1
Publisher: Pantheon

Mixing cultural criticism with a belletristic style of writing, Garber (English/Harvard) argues that people love their houses as truly and as passionately as each other.

“The house can be a primary object of affection and desire—not a displacement or a substitute or a metaphor,” writes Garber (Dog Love, 1996). In other words, the quest for the perfect house does not represent, say, a need for security. It’s simply an overlooked, legitimate, and integral component of our yearning: the desire for the perfect house. Garber maintains that houses have been at the heart of romance, particularly middle-class romance, as long as romance has been around. Similarly, she concludes that the concept of the dream house has been a fixture of consumer culture since its inception. Its cousin on steroids, the trophy house, provides Garber with still more examples of how a presumably mundane building can be the locus of desire. She points to Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in which Daisy’s house has an air of “breathless intensity,” and on the flip side, to Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, a realtor who, in a fit of self-love, ties his sense of personal authenticity to his profession. It’s possible to find Garber precious, but difficult to blame her for this quality, since it appears to be a necessary element of her attempt to unify two seemingly disparate topics. Consider, for example, the long section about Garber’s personal experience with the Historical Commission of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its strictures on what colors are permissible for the houses under its jurisdiction. The narrative is fresh and lively, but one does tend to wonder about a Harvard professor spending her days considering the social implications of Colonial Yellow and Essex Green. Then Garber relates these nitpicky issues to the question of nostalgia (which means homesickness), and a method emerges from the madness.

An inventive, erudite analysis from a scholar and homeowner.