- The Burroway House
minneapolis: think piece publishing, 2014. 160pages, paper, $14.95.
lincoln: university of nebraska press, 2013. 232pages, paper, $25.00.
During graduate school in Tallahassee, I rented a loft above the home of author Janet Burroway and her husband, Peter Ruppert, both retired professors from Florida State University. The loft spanned the length of the Burroway House, as my friends and I called it, and was comprised of a kitchenette and bedroom with a small hallway between, a bathroom with a claw-foot tub, and a separate entrance from the carport. Though the loft itself wasn’t very spacious, the Burroways, as we called them, lived in Wisconsin ten months out of the year, and during that time I had full run of the property—upstairs and down, outside and in.
While the Burroways were gone, I would come down the interior staircase to cook in their kitchen, eat in front of their cable TV, and read from their library, a section of which included titles about suicide and coping with loss. Peter welcomed me to use his office overlooking the street as well as his bathroom with a walk-in shower. When my friends came over, they’d roam the house and marvel at the curious décor—a child’s doll with corncob teeth above the kitchen cupboard, Fabergé eggs hanging from the ceiling, some black-and-white portrait photos of towheaded children. [End Page 219]
The only room they asked me not to use was Janet’s office, a pine-smelling study containing additional oddities, such as a manikin’s arm reaching down from the bookshelf. Janet’s office looked out onto the backyard, an acre of land canopied by longleaf pines, magnolias, and water oaks. Vines and ivy climbed the trees; flowering bushes bordered the gazebo, deck, and swimming pool. The Burroways paid a yard guy, bug man, and cleaning lady to keep things tidy. For a graduate student intent on studying and socializing, the situation was beyond ideal—it was unbelievable.
When I first moved in, Janet, a lovely, well-spoken woman, greeted me warmly while Peter, a friendly, philosophical man, showed me the loft and property and walked me through my duties. In exchange for cheap rent, I agreed to take care of the pool and the outdoor cat.
“One more thing,” Peter said after pointing out where to drop the chlorine tablets and the kibble. “Keep this tree alive.”
We stood in front of a Japanese maple, a dozen feet tall, planted between the pool and the patio. In front of the tree, on a three-foot stake driven into the ground, a plaque read, “In Memory of Tim Eysselinck.”
“Janet’s son,” Peter said. “He was a contractor in Iraq. He came home and . . . ” Peter waved his hand in the air, searching for the right words. “He just couldn’t take it anymore.”
In Losing Tim, Janet Burroway confronts issues domestic, military, and taboo as she sifts through her politically polarized relationship with her son Tim, investigates the culture of war that captivated him and hastened his death, and sheds light on the massive depression that confronts a large number of Iraq war veterans. Through it all, readers come to know both Janet and Tim as philosophically opposed mother and son who nonetheless cherish each other.
The oldest of Burroway’s two sons from a marriage predating Peter, Tim Eysselinck distinguished himself from his parents—intellectuals who wrote, taught, and worked in the theater—by gravitating toward discipline, authority figures, and anything military. Born in Belgium, raised in south England, Illinois, and Tallahassee, Tim “spent three years in ROTC, four in the Army, and eight in the Reserve,” Burroway writes, “during which he volunteered for [End Page 220] every available deployment: Germany, Bosnia, the Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia.” He’d become a well-liked and respected specialist in mine removal, the assignment to dig up mines rather than plant them, in Burroway’s view, coming as a happy accident. Working for RONCO as a...