Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Looks Like Home: Brooke Berman's Memoir

I had Brooke Berman's No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments in my Amazon shopping cart for a really long time. Like, more than a year. House and home and leave-taking...these are concepts that are hugely meaningful for me, almost to the point of being talismanic. Not that I've lived in 39 apartments or anything. But one of my dearest childhood wishes was stasis. I wanted a big white colonial, like the one in Father of the Bride. And I wanted to live there until I turned 18, and I wanted my room to remain untouched so I could come home on break from college and sleep on wildly age-inappropriate sheets, surrounded by my perfect attendance trophies and unicorn beanie babies.

I finally caved and bought it two weeks ago, and I'm still not sure what I think of it. Berman tells the story of the twenty-odd years between her grand move to New York City at the tender age of 18 and her discovery of "true love" as she nears 40, all while struggling to define her own success as a playwright and find spiritual enlightenment through scented candles and neighbors who read tarot cards. Instead of chapter-headings, we have addresses. Instead of characters, we have friends and lovers who blend into one another and merge and inevitably disappear, fading in and out of Berman's history and becoming ex-friends and ex-lovers that, along with un-loved possessions, are purged from storage spaces and end up curbside.

The thing about the book I can't get past is the way it settles into an ending. Berman's beautiful, theatrical, one-footed mother dies, and she can finally embrace her success without guilt or the fear that, halfway across the country, her mother is overdosing on something. She finds a man who wants a committed, monogamous relationship (or are their neediness gauges just the same?), and they get engaged. She finds...mortgaged bliss? Harumph. It's much too tidy, I think.

One of the book's strengths is the way in which it links transitions between spaces and transitions between people. The implication is that, when you find a space you can settle into, you can probably settle into a relationship as well. And vice versa. As the book morphs from a story about the intangibility of home into one about the tangibility of love, are we meant to fully embrace that implication. Does one equal the other?

Being at home in another person. It's a mighty clich├ęd idea, but also a pretty nice one. 

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