You know the plot: fantasies that many of us had had about buying an old wreck out in the wilds somewhere and slaving away at remodeling and renovating and along the way gaining insight into our very selves. That is, you get new insulation, a snazzy kitchen backsplash and perhaps a spread in Country Living as well as self-knowledge.
Kind of like "This Old House" meets "Eat Pray Love." Or as Joanne Kaufman put it in The Wall Street Journal, "The take-home message: If you get your house right, you'll also get your life right (or vice versa)."
But does a house makeover always lead to introspection and internal renewal?
We'd like to believe so, judging by the fabulous success of books like Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence" and the popular "Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes. In these cases it's the innocent abroad plot in which the protagonist sets out into unknown territory and, in the process of ripping out walls and dealing with balky Polish laborers, builds a dream house and finds variations of happiness and contentment.
According to Kaufman, such books "hit the sweet spot between our collective passion for real estate and our national belief in the power of re-invention."
The latest crop includes "The House at Royal Oak" by Carol Eron Rizzoli, the story of closing the bookshop that she and her husband Hugo ran in Washington, D.C., and opening an upscale B&B called Royal Oak on Chesapeake Bay; Josh Kilmer-Purcell's "The Bucolic Plague," about his excursion into goat farming with his city-slicker partner; and "The Dirty Life," the upcoming story of Harvard grad Kristin Kimball, a freelance writer who "traded in her life in the city to marry a farmer" and which chronicles year on their sustainable farm.
Sounds like a challenge, as was always portrayed on the old TV show "Green Acres." And one that glosses over the reality that the headaches, agony and angst of a renovation -- haggling with a plumber in hostile territory -- can be soothed with what we gain through these experiences -- love, fulfillment, the perfect relationship, and of course, a book contract.
Still, it's fun to dream (as you turn the pages of these books this summer on the beach) that the rundown shack over there could be transformed into a casual seaside bistro serving locavore delights and fish caught by your friends, the scruffy local fishermen, who also offer old-fashioned wisdom on how to overcome your neuroses.
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