cover image Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter

Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter

Nina MacLaughlin. Norton, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-393-23913-3

A Boston newspaperwoman transformed herself into a carpenter’s assistant and found new satisfaction working with her hands rather than molding words. In her light narrative, in which the former classics major wisely and sparingly employs allusions to Ovid and Vitruvius, MacLaughlin recounts her quirky journey, after seven years at the Phoenix, to landing an improbable job at age 30 as assistant to the highly trained carpenter, Mary, a petite, self-described “43-year-old married lesbian.” Mary’s patience and encouragement on numerous jobs in the Boston area, like kitchen and bathroom renovations, moving walls, tiling and ripping out floors and stairs, over many seasons with MacLaughlin allowed the author to grow and learn and even master carpentry work on her own. The author quotes Gabriel García Márquez calling literature “nothing but carpentry.... With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood,” yet Márquez had actually never worked with wood, while the author finds enormous release in hands-on labor free of words. Moreover, women make up only about 2% of the male-dominated profession of carpenter, MacLaughlin cites, thus rendering enormous interest in this painstaking work so lovingly delineated. (Mar.)