I just finished reading the memoir Building a Home With My Husband: A Journey Through the Renovation of Love by Rachel Simon. Don’t be put off by the title, which doesn’t even hint at the emotional richness of Simon’s story about renovating an old row house in Wilmington, Delaware. I had read her earlier memoir, Riding the Bus With My Sister: A True Life Journey and knew that she’s someone for whom personal relationships hold the key to life’s joys and heartbreak. Simon can’t walk down the street without making a friend. She’s genuinely interested in everyone’s life but most particularly in scrutinizing her own and telling us the universal truths that she unearths. Her husband Hal calls her “The Girl From Epiphanema” and no nickname could be more apt.
As she and Hal renovate their house, every phase recalls a part of her life. When she feels a sense of emptiness as the house is stripped and rooms gutted, she searches through her fractured childhood and difficult relationship with her mother and siblings to make a coherent narrative of their present relationships. When she and Hal move out during the renovations, Simon remembers the dislocating moves of her childhood after her parents’ divorce and her move out of Hal’s apartment years ago. As the rooms of their house are stripped, gutted, and put back together, she examines her connections with parents, siblings, and friends. Simon learns lessons–and has epiphanies–at every step of the way. Her insights will have you thinking instantly about your own relationships and how forgiveness, love, patience, tolerance, and commitment will make them better.
If it seems strange to you that the renovation process is a catalyst for such a profound trip into Simon’s psyche, you only need to recall that in dreams, a house represents our inner selves, our thoughts about how we feel about where we are in our lives. Dismantling and repairing a house has the same effect on Simon–it’s a waking dream that we share with her. There’s more about Simon on her website.