Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Memoir Review: Building a Home with My Husband

Years ago, I enjoyed reading Rachel Simon’s memoir, Riding the Bus With My Sister, for one of my book groups, so I was glad to hear she had a new book out, Building a Home With My Husband: A Journey Through the Renovation of Love. I wanted to read it but didn’t expect to be able to relate to it very much. After all, it’s about Simon and her husband undertaking major renovations on their city rowhouse – something I’ve had no experience with, living out here in the suburbs in a newer home.

As with her previous book, though, Simon surprised me. I had forgotten about her talent for taking unique events from her own life and finding within them some basic truths about all human existence. That’s what she does in her new memoir; she uses the process of renovation as a metaphor for life and love, and, in the process, makes some very astute observations. Not only could I relate to her account, but by the time I finished the book, it was so full of Post-It flags, I could barely manage to turn the pages. I wanted to remember all of the amazing insights she wrote about and apply them to my own life.

In addition to being insightful, Simon’s writing is clever and eloquent. In one of many of my favorite passages, she talks about her sister’s preparations to visit their ailing mother, with whom they’ve had a difficult past relationship:

When Hal and I return from our walk, I plunge right in and dial my sister Laura. Days away from flying across the country to visit our mother so one of us can see the situation firsthand, Laura has been far more decisive about what clothing she should pack than about what emotions she will need. We know it would be wise if she could wedge patience, kindness, and acceptance into her suitcase, though we’re aware that space will be limited, given the well-worn disappointments and annoyances, and so many still-in-the-package fears.

I happen to be preparing for a visit with my own extended family this week, and these sentences are pure genius – what a perfectly apt metaphor.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Simon and I have a lot in common. She lives in Wilmington, DE, just a few miles from us, she’s a writer, and best of all, she’s very introspective, always analyzing what’s going on in her life and seeking to better herself. I enjoy this kind of reflection, too.

I really loved this memoir. It was both entertaining and thought-provoking, and I look forward to whatever writing project Simon tackles next.

Dutton Adult, 253 pages


  1. Wonderful review, Sue. Makes me want to read the book!

  2. Nice review, Sue! I've linked to yours on my review of this.

    I'm new to your blog (although I am guessing from your comment about Wilmington that we may live in close geographic
    proximity ... :)