- Leaving the Pink House: A Memoir by Ladette Randolph
By Ladette Randolph. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014. 238pp. $18.00 paper.
Ladette Randolph’s stunning memoir spins a story of the houses she’s lived in and the relationships those houses have sheltered, but it reveals much more. The organization of the book mirrors the surprises in the story. On the one hand the reader might expect a fairly straightforward account of the writer’s life—in roughly chronological order—cleverly laid out using the convention of each chapter set in a different house, beginning with “The House on the Top of the Hill, Custer County, Nebraska, 1958–1965” and ending with “The Dollhouse, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1991–1992.” But interspersed between those “house” chapters are recollections organized by month from September 2001 to July 2002.
These “month” sections of the book detail the remodeling project that compelled Randolph and her husband to leave the pink house (their previous remodeling project). The realistic descriptions of the planning, decision making, and execution required in the remaking of their country home seem to mirror the internal remaking that was going on in their family. Anyone that has undertaken a home remodel can identify with that. Not to get all “pop psychology” here, but our images of house and home really might reflect our sense of self—as suggested by Jungian dream analysis.
Renovating a house requires intimacy with a building. By the time you’ve stripped wallpaper, pulled up carpets, removed cabinets, washed, sanded, and painted walls and woodwork, you know the lines and features of a house as you might the body of a lover. Our level of approaching intimacy with the country house, though, was less like that of a lover than like that of a forensic scientist.(61)
On the surface, the story seems to progress through the various homes that Randolph inhabited throughout her life, but below the surface she explores the different person(s) she was as she lived in each of those homes. As the author’s life is revealed, the reader is reminded that delving into another person’s life can uncover depths of beauty, but sadness too. I’ve read other books by this author, so I was prepared for her careful, sparse, lovely writing. I might not have been prepared for how much the story of her life and the scenes of the houses that served as its backdrop grabbed me and touched me. Lee Gutkind said that creative nonfiction is “True stories, well told.” The story of Ladette Randolph’s journey fits that description and will appeal to readers that gravitate toward the beautifully written firsthand narrative. [End Page 69]