Thursday, August 4, 2011
A Barn in New England
In my review of Andorra I mentioned that there is another book I turn to when I am feeling the effects of summer and wanting to be somewhere else. That book is Joseph Monninger's A Barn in New England.
Monninger is a professor who decides to move with his girlfriend, Wendy, and her son, Pie, to a barn in Warren, New Hampshire. The word barn means different things to different people. I refer to the building behind my house where I work out as a barn even though it is only about sixteen feet square and a couple of floors high. It's not a barn where I'm going to keep cattle. It is a wooden building with beams that resembles, well, a barn, albeit a small one.
Similarly, Monninger's barn is a bit hard to picture as a barn because of its enormity. It once housed animals so you know it is pretty big. The only thing about this book I don't like is that there are no pictures of the barn. You have to imagine it. Or be a decent researcher. From things mentioned in the book, I tracked down an old postcard that had a picture of the barn. Here it is:
That's the barn on the left. Mammoth, huh? It is four stories high. So the book is about their move to the barn, their first year in it, the town and townfolk, the renovations they make to the barn, and the lives of a couple in love/family. I love it. It's one of my favorite books of all time.
Monninger somehow creates a sense of idyllic realism. Living in a place like that isn't easy. Insulating, heating, restoring rotted wood including support beams. It takes effort and money. It's not easy and Monninger doesn't pretend it is. Yet the writing is never whiny, never defeatist. The trio are, if anything, resilient. They plug away and turn what was once a barn into a home.
Monninger's writing is exquisite with great details. And always just the right ones in the right amount. I always find it difficult (I have read this several times) not to feel inspired by reading this. A search for home has always been a struggle for me and while where I live now is as close as I have been, that summer heat still makes me want to move further north.
But beyond the building, the love Monninger feels for Wendy and Pie is also inspirational. A building isn't really a home without people and there is a lot of love in this story without it becoming sappy.
Whether or not I become Monninger's neighbor remains to be seen. In the long run, I have a feeling I'll likely stop short of New England, say, oh, I don't know, somewhere in rural New York. Until then, I'll keep plugging away at my own old house and barn and be inspired by Monninger.