She built a book around building a house

blogging-bonanza-bugIt’s Memoir Monday here as we work our way through the month-long blogging bonanza celebrating the launch on March 28 of Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of “Like” in 1982. I’m reviewing memoirs I’ve read recently, as I’m apt to do frequently on this blog because good writers know that reading works in their genre makes them better.

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It’s not about hot air balloons or bread. Author Cara Brookins uses “rise” in the same way an old-fashioned farmer might think of the verb, as in a “barn raising,” and her book about building a house incorporates the same old-fashioned values of community, frugality and elbow grease.

RiseRise: How a House Built a Family tells the story of how Brookins and her brood of four children (two teenagers, a gradeschooler and a toddler who manages more theatrics than effort) built the house they live in with little more than YouTube videos and the advice of Home Depot employees.

For someone fascinated with all things HGTV, this book was interesting. But it was also weird, too. Between each “Rise” chapter, Brookins tells the backstory in “Fall” chapters. Brookins’ ex-husbands were nightmarish men–abusive and crazy–and she tells how they haunt her family in excruciating, sometimes melodramatic detail. It was a little like suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I got to the point where I seriously considered skipping the Fall chapters.

But this memoir grows on you. Here’s a quote from a chapter titled “I Am My Plumber”:

Somewhere in recent history, humans– at least those in America–had become all about feeling rather than doing. Instead of tackling our problems and sweating them out, we started sitting around and talking about them, or trying to drown them in alcohol and pills. The new methods didn’t seem to be working well, from what I had seen. Ancient rites of passage always centered on action. A child had to do something physical, like face a demon in a dark forest, before becoming a man or a woman.

So while I started reading the book thinking, “why would anyone try to pour cement or build studded walls if they’d never done it before?” I got to the end of the book thinking, “what a brilliant way to build a kid’s self esteem and cultivate family unity.”

Some of Brookins’ storytelling is a little too perfect to be believable (like the doll house they construct in the beginning and the muses who visit her in her sleep), and that might put off some readers. But on the other hand, superheros and ghosts are popular in other genres, so why not?

In the end, I appreciated that Brookins wrote about how she healed after her abusive marriages rather than just write about the abuse. It made me want to fix my much-less traumatic problems with old-fashioned action instead of newfangled pharma, so it was inspiring. And you can’t ask for a whole lot more from a good memoir.

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One thought on “She built a book around building a house

  1. Pingback: Don’t neglect the ‘dark moment of the soul’ in your memoir | Monica Lee

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