GIMME SHELTER by Mary Elizabeth Williams


True Tales from the Real Estate Bubble
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A middle-class couple in “car-honking, no-YOU-shut-up Brooklyn” embarks on a three-year mission to seek the permanence of home ownership.

Journalist Williams loved her Carroll Gardens rental, but felt pressured as homeowning friends with appreciating equity ridiculed those who didn’t invest in real estate, asking, “What will it cost six months from now?” With limited savings for a down payment, the author and her husband desperately started looking for houses in Brooklyn, but in their price range found only dilapidated, termite-ridden buildings near highways and unsafe neighborhoods. Williams bitingly describes the search, reliving the hysteria at the height of the 2003–06 real-estate bubble: “Open houses are crowded and competitive, with brokers entertaining multiple suitors like Scarlett O’Hara at a party.” Without much of a plot engine to propel a repetitive, mostly unfulfilling search, the author opts for plumbing the psychological depths of her emotional history, explaining her tenacious need for a house and security in confessional, tell-all prose. Abandoned by her husband when she was six-months pregnant, Williams’ reluctant mother is a chronic worrier and inappropriate confider who says things like, “You have no idea how incredible it is to have grandchildren…It’s so different than what you feel for your own child.” The author shows New York rapidly becoming affordable only for the extremely rich, while the middle-class gets squeezed out to the suburbs. Along the way, she patiently explains such real-estate idioms as staging, no-doc mortgages (“a lending version of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ ”) and interest-only loans. Although the author’s mantra was to go for what you want, no matter how unobtainable it seemed, eventually she compromised and settled for a lower-priced home in Inwood, on the northern tip of Manhattan, close to the Cloisters and a beautiful park.

Poignant and funny.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4165-5708-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2009


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