RED HOUSE: Being a Mostly Accurate Account of New England's Oldest Continuously Lived-In House
Release date: 06/01/2004
Red House, built by Walter Hatch circa 1647, was one of the first houses in Marshfield, Mass., a coastal community some 30 miles south of Boston. Although it had been stipulated that the house would stay in the Hatch family, descendant Richard Hatch sold it to Messer's father in 1965, impressed with his respect for the property. While Messer didn't obsess over restoring the house to its "original" state, he approached all changes mindful of Red House history. And so the author (now a poet and teacher at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington) grew up in an oddly anachronistic household—with rag rugs instead of shag, Dutch ovens instead of electric ranges, wood instead of Formica. Daguerreotypes of 19th-century and photographs of 20th-century Hatches were carefully preserved; Hatch's original will was displayed on the wall. Although Messer felt like she was "growing up with someone else's history," this dual identity may have suggested her book's unusual form, which weaves Messer's story of growing up in Red House with the Hatch family's story. Her research into New England history unexpectedly fascinates (e.g., how 17th-century settlers would wear masks when carousing drunk to avoid identification; how they earmarked their communally grazing cattle). Beyond giving readers a sense of the liveliness of early New England life and explaining what it was like to grow up in a historic house, Messer gives readers a great sense of the power of a house to pull and shape its inhabitants. Agent, Amy Renner. (On sale June 21)
Forecast: Local author events and national publicity will help market this book to lovers of quirky American history.