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House Hold

A Memoir of Place

Ann Peters

Publication Year: 2014

Like the house built by Ann Peters’s father on a hill in eastern Wisconsin, House Hold offers many views: cornfields and glacial lakes, fast food parking lots and rural highways, Manhattan apartments and Brooklyn brownstones. Peters revisits the modern split-level where she grew up in Wisconsin, remembering her architect father. Against the background of this formative space, she charts her roaming story through two decades of New York City apartments, before traveling to a cabin in the mountains of Colorado and finally purchasing an old farmhouse in upstate New York.
            More than a memoir of remembered landscapes, House Hold is also an expansive contemplation of America, a meditation on place and property, and an exploration of how literature shapes our thinking about the places we live. A gifted prose stylist, Peters seamlessly combines her love of buildings with her love of books. She wanders through the rooms of her past but also through what Henry James called “the house of fiction,” interweaving personal narrative with musings on James, Willa Cather, William Dean Howells, Paule Marshall, William Maxwell, and others. Peters reflects on the romance of pastoral retreat, the hazards of nostalgia, America’s history of expansion and land ownership, and the conflicted desires to put down roots and to hit the road. Throughout House Hold, she asks how places make us who we are.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

Part One: The House

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1. The House on the Ledge

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pp. 3-30

Usu ally, when I re turn to the house, it?s been lifted, as if by some fa bled tor nado, to an alien lo cale. The key will not fit the lock. At the door, dogs rat tle their chains, strang ers stare be fore snap ping shut the blinds, and in place of our field, there are new build ings cast ing shad ows on streets whose names are in-enough like a faded Laur ence Olivier for me to mar vel af ter ward ...

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2. The Architect

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pp. 31-52

If you sat be hind my father, say on a week day plane ride across mid dle Amer ica, you?d see the small-town busi ness man in a button-down shirt, sleeves un rolled to re veal a meaty fore arm, a heavy ex pand able wrist watch tick ing the hours. Or, if you went look ing for him in the pages of American fic tion, you?d think of Bab bitt, catch a whiff of Old Spice and the hearti ness of a bar ...

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3. The Second House

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pp. 53-69

I have a photo graph, a Po la roid taken a couple of years be fore we moved to the coun try. I?m three years old, dressed in a cow girl cos tume, a pis tol hitched to my waist, feet planted on the ground. Be hind me a side walk ends abruptly in a mass of wild-flow ers and weeds. Lawn bor ders an un mowed field. One foot in There?s noth ing spe cial about this photo graph. Thou sands of ...

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4. The Holy Land

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pp. 70-97

I like the names at tached to the places where I?ve lived: At lan tis, Eden, Em pire, the Holy Land. My home town, Fond du Lac, was named by French ex plor ers to mark the south ern most point of Lake Win ne bago on the map. Lit er ally it trans lates as pi o neer an ces tors set tled, my father?s fore bears in Em pire, my mother?s in Eden. In these place-names, I can trace my roots to ...

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5. Leaving

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pp. 98-110

Fif teen years ago I was teach ing a night class at a com mu nity col lege in the Bronx. It was a re me dial com po si tion course. Most of my stu dents were im mi grants and had been in Amer ica only a year or two, yet al ready the first flush of an tic i pa tion had paled, the dream hard to con jure up. Taxi driv ers and hotel maids and short order cooks, they worked all day and came to my class ...

Part Two: The Apartment

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6. Reid Terrace

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pp. 113-135

When I think of Fond du Lac, I por tion it off. My father gets the res tau rants and those streets where he built his houses. He gets the of fice across from the old rail road depot where he ran the con struc tion com pany and the of fice he?d later move to But the older sec tion, the busi ness and res i den tial dis trict down?town, in vokes my mother and her par ents, Lester and Kath ryn ...

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7. Manhattan

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pp. 136-162

The city began for me in a wood?paneled win dow less box, a base ment room in a split?level not far from the com muter sta tion in a New York sub urb. The house was in Bronx ville and be longed to the par ents of Ed, a friend of a friend. I didn?t know Ed or his par ents; I didn?t know any one in the city when I ar rived that Sep tem ber. I was twenty?one. My hosts handed over the back ...

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8. Lafayette

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pp. 163-178

In 1998, I moved into my last Man hat tan apart ment. Two years later, just after the ball dropped on the new mil len nium, I started look ing in Queens and Brook lyn. I had ar rived in the city with an image of John Tra volta and his girl in Sat ur day Night Fever cross ing the Brook lyn Bridge into Man hat tan, but I spent the first six months of the new cen tury search ing in the op po site ...

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9. Brownstone

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pp. 179-202

If I liked to im a gine my place on La fay ette as some res i den tial hotel room, I was not so ad dled to for get the dif fer ence. The af ford able hotels dot ting the New York land scape in the nine teenth and twen ti eth cen tu ries of fered a dou ble guar an tee: a se cure nest that could be sea son ally re con structed to present a dif fer ent view. You might not be able to re ar range the fur ni ture, but you could ...

Part Three: The Return

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10. Lake City

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pp. 205-218

In the late nine ties, I was strug gling?boy friend and money trou ble and, as al ways, the un cer tain ties of real es tate. I seemed to have lost my grip on geog ra phy. From a fa mil iar sub way I?d emerge and wan der south when I wanted to go west, or stand stunned at a green light as if wait ing for a cour teous stranger to cup my elbow. Noth ing could help, not even the Man hat tan grid ...

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11. Ancestors

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pp. 219-233

At the end of the 1990s, I spent an hour every week in a brown- stone par lor floor in the West Thir ties, not far from Port Au thor ity bus ter mi nal. The apart ment be longed to Ca role, a trans plant from Iowa a few years older than my mother. She was a ther a pist who spe cial ized in al co hol ics and crea tive blocks. I be longed to the sec ond cat e gory. After only a few months, it was ...

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12. Jefferson

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pp. 234-254

After my father died in 2005, he left us each some money. Any sen sible per son, es pe cially one who for twenty years had been con sumed by wor ries about find ing an af ford able place in I al ways knew I?d do the im prac ti cal thing, though?knew if my father did leave me any money, I?d use it to buy a house in the coun try. Stronger than the de mands of my New York life was a ...

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pp. 255-256

First and most of all, I thank Andre Thei sen, who has lived in side this book al most from the day we got mar ried. I re mem ber his start: ?Write for an hour, and then we?ll go to the beach.? I re mem?ber the long mid dle stretch when he?d come home from work and multi ple times. (I still can?t be lieve my luck: a bril liant ed i tor to ...


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pp. 257-264


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pp. 265-270


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pp. 271-275

E-ISBN-13: 9780299296230
E-ISBN-10: 0299296237
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299296209
Print-ISBN-10: 0299296202

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 14 b/w photos
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Peters, Ann (Professor of English).
  • Fond du Lac (Wis.) -- Biography.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Biography.
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