cover image HOUSE: A Memoir

HOUSE: A Memoir

Michael Ruhlman, . . Viking, $24.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03383-6

"The architect... looked up at the stained, buckling kitchen ceiling, inhaled and exhaled deeply before saying, 'I hope you didn't pay a lot for this house.' " These were not encouraging words to Ruhlman (The Soul of a Chef ) and his family, whose new fixer-upper in Cleveland Heights had "big -rodent nests" filling the walls and "sheets of [code] violations—big as a telephone book." Blending reportage and memoir, Ruhlman details his home's complete history, putting it in context with an account of the first American suburb in 1869 and a description of his family's first Christmas in the house in 2001. His well-researched history of the suburbs will interest anyone who's ever lived in one, but his in-depth chronicle of his town will enthrall only those familiar with it. The book is strongest when it focuses on personal details. The stories of the lazy real estate broker, the often-unreliable contractors, and the spiraling budgets will be familiar to any homeowner. The house puts a strain on Ruhlman's family, and Ruhlman doesn't shy from depicting the weaknesses of his marriage, even as it exposes him as overly complacent and his wife as a shrill martyr. Agent, Elizabeth Kaplan. (Apr.)