At one point while I was writing The Ocean in Winter, I enlisted the help of Stuart Horwitz of Book Architecture, whom I have worked with before and who has been a friend and a great source of help and encouragement for a long time. One thing Stuart told me was that he didn’t like the title. I tried really hard to think of something else but ultimately failed, (spoiler alert, just kidding) although one of the candidates I came up with was something along the lines of Crazy Little Houses and the Dysfunctional People Who Live in Them. We agreed that it was perfect, but missing something in the tone department …
One of the things this book is about is houses. We love them, we hate them, we fear them, we cannot be contained by them but somehow they entrap us. You can live in a house or you can let a house become your life. Some specific houses stir up so many memories they are like time-capsules; people can become so obsessed with this possibility that they cannot part with the things that remind them of a certain time, and thus get trapped in the past. One character in the book is deeply afraid that getting stuck with a house will determine the course of her life; another character’s whole identity is deeply tangled up with her house, so what happens when the house burns down? Another character seems internally and externally homeless as well as house-less.
And the truth is … I love to look at houses and wonder what kind of stories they have to tell. When my husband and I were house-hunting twelve years ago, we wanted an old house, one with a story, but we also wanted a working fireplace. Pro tip: many old houses in New England have fireplaces, but loads of those fireplaces have not been maintained or updated. If you’re looking to buy an antique house, it’s actually hard to find one with a fireplace that actually functions. (How’s that for irony?) We were lucky enough to find one, but we had to buy the other four fireplaces in the house along with it.
One of my favorite local houses almost slipped out of the book until the last minute: the Pink House in Newburyport. It’s on the road to Plum Island, and you can’t miss it. If you’re looking for a house that tells a story, look no further. I have loved the Pink House ever since we moved to this area. It was a private home then, and after that it was for sale (for just under a mill) and then it was taken on by the US Fish & Wildlife/Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
It’s picturesque to a fault. Set on an epic landscape. Unique. Quirky. Slightly crestfallen for not having been updated, repaired, or lived in for a long time, but regal and lovely nonetheless. I am not alone in my adoration; the Pink House has an organization and a web site devoted to finding ways to support and spread the word about the wonderful old place.
What kind of a story does your house tell? I’d love to hear it!