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Posts Tagged ‘houses’

Haunting Houses: An Interview with Angela Flournoy

June 4, 2015 | by

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Photo © LaToya T. Duncan

In Detroit, the Turners have lived on Yarrow Street for generations, and now their home is worth a mere tenth of its mortgage. Oh, and it’s haunted—it’s been that way for fifty years, since Cha-Cha, the oldest son of Francis and Viola Turner, was attacked by a haint one summer night. Angela Flournoy’s debut novel, The Turner House, set primarily in 2008, tells the Turner clan’s story as they tend to the elderly Viola and decide what to do with the family home.

Flournoy hangs the family’s personal struggles on the political history of Detroit, tracing their move from Arkansas to the bright industrial promise of midcentury Motor City, the electric environment of the 1967 riots, and the city’s long decline. “Lelah,” an excerpt from the novel in the Spring 2015 issue of The Paris Review, focuses on the youngest Turner child, whose gambling addiction takes her to Motor City, where she loses the last of her money on a game of roulette.

I met Flournoy near the Review’s offices in north Chelsea. I was late, and Flournoy, elegantly dressed and having just arrived from Detroit, had already enjoyed most of her coffee and was patiently talking on her cell phone. We discussed ghosts, gambling, and the blend of personal and political in her novel.

Your novel is full of Detroit history. Did you hear stories about it from your family?

I did a lot of research. One thing I remember hearing of the ’67 riot is that nobody knew what it was while it happened. Nobody knows that today is going to be the day a riot starts. A lot of people in Detroit actually called it an uprising. So I would apply the facts I learned in my research to a character’s life. Imagine you’re getting off work, or you’re at work, and things just feel weird. Then you hear that something’s happening across town, but no one knows what to call this thing, because no one knows how big it is. It’s more difficult for the individual to frame what’s going on as a whole, what’s happening outside of the details in the personal life. Read More »

Where We Live

May 28, 2015 | by

Atlanta, GA, 1996

Atlanta, Georgia, 1996. Photo via Laurence Miller Gallery

David Graham’s “Where We Live: Photographs of the American Home” is at Laurence Miller Gallery through June 26. Graham’s photographs span more than thirty years; he aims to “document the American home as both sanctuary and playful expression of individuality.” You can see more of his work here.
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Unhousing

January 2, 2015 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

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Foreclosed homes as haunted houses.

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Photo: Casey Serin

My wife and I began searching for a house in 2008, just as the market was crashing, just as those first waves of foreclosed homes and short sales were hitting the market. Priced out of Los Angeles real estate for so long, we were finally able to afford houses whose prices had been ridiculously inflated only six months earlier. Occasionally we went to those open houses with smiling realtors and bowls of candy set out, where owners had recently landscaped or repainted to enhance value, but we could never seriously consider any of these. The homes that mattered had lock boxes, were abandoned or in the process of being abandoned—the ones that reeked of disrepair and despair.

We spent the summer touring nearly every distressed property in the neighborhoods East of Hollywood: Los Feliz, Silverlake, Echo Park, and Atwater Village—every abandoned or half-abandoned monstrosity and beloved ruin, looking for a home. I still have a hard time articulating the sense of dread and fascination those houses stirred in me. The feeling of moving through these spaces—particularly as we were visiting seven or eight of them in an afternoon—was indescribable. A sense of wrongness pervaded so many of these homes. I’m not superstitious—I don’t believe in spirits or forces or haunted houses—but much of our lexicon in these cases depends on notions of the supernatural; in the end, the only word that seems useful for talking about the houses is unheimlich—a German word, literally “unhomely” or “not of the home,” “unfamiliar.” It’s more idiomatically translated as “uncanny”: a word that Freud plucked and repurposed from the realm of the supernatural. Read More >>

William Carlos Williams’s “Election Day”

November 4, 2014 | by

An abandoned grade school in La Prairie Center, Illinois, used as a polling place in 1973. Photo: National Archive

Your typical polling center seldom evokes the poetic. In my neighborhood, we’re assigned a local elementary school. There are student projects lining the walls: family trees, doggerel, pictures. (“Children only!” a volunteer yelled at me when I tried to use the girls’ room—which, fair enough. But everyone in the place was over eighteen.)

Enter William Carlos Williams. His “Election Day,” from 1941, is spare and sardonic; vote before reading.

Warm sun, quiet air
an old man sits

in the doorway of
a broken house—

boards for windows
plaster falling

from between the stones
and strokes the head

of a spotted dog

Dead Authors’ Homes

August 20, 2014 | by

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Salinger’s old house. Photo: Jim Mauchly / Mountain Graphics Photography

The literary real-estate market is booming. In May, Ray Bradbury’s house was for sale (Los Angeles, California; 2,500 square feet; $1.495 million). Then, in July, John Cheever’s house was for sale (Ossining, New York; 2,688 square feet; $525,000). At the time, you may have kicked yourself for failing to act on those—maybe you couldn’t scrape together the funds in time, or maybe you thought, Well, surely some other Dead Author’s Home will come along soon enough, and that will be the Dead Author’s Home for me.

You’re in luck: as reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, Page Six, and others, J. D. Salinger’s house is for sale, and it’s the most capacious authorial domicile yet (Cornish, New Hampshire; 2,900 square feet; $679,000).

The home’s current owner, Joan Littlefield, told the Valley News, a New Hampshire paper, that “she had been considering advertising the house, which she bought in the 1980s, in The New Yorker, in the hopes of attracting literary types.” To go by the coverage the property’s received, she has the right idea. But what does it mean to want to live in a dead writer’s house? When does fandom devolve into idolatry? 

You might suppose that an ardent admirer of Salinger’s would have much to gain by inhabiting his private space—writerly inspiration, maybe, or a deeper connection to the work, or even just a constant, salubrious mental patter. (It’s another fine morning in J. D.’s kitchen, the satisfied homeowner thought.) Read More »

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House-sitting and Other Work

June 27, 2014 | by

Precarity and creativity in other people’s homes.

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Charles Demuth, Modern Conveniences, 1921.

When I moved back to Portland, Oregon, in 2010, after four years away in New York and Arizona, no one would hire me. Not Whole Foods, not the local New Seasons market, not the upscale Zupan’s chains. “Thanks for your interest in the Deli Service Clerk/Courtesy Clerk/Cashier/Meat Cutter - Back up position,” an automated email said. “If your skills match up with the requirements of the job, we’ll be in touch to arrange an interview.” No one got in touch. Trader Joe’s wouldn’t even respond to my inquiries. If I, a thirty-six year old with college degrees and retail experience, couldn’t get hired to work a register, what hope could I feel in anything?

I subsisted on egg dishes and microwavable food. Whatever canned soups were on sale I bought by the armful. In lieu of a “real” job, I made it my job to spend very little money. Portland is a tough town for good employment. It has a glut of eager applicants and limited industry. Our main commercial offerings are arguably food, advertising, and stylishness. Combined with our large artist population, that means that countless musicians, writers, and painters are cooking and serving your meals.

Hope came from a local landmark, Powell’s Books, which hired me as a temp cashier in the summer of 2011. I’d worked at the flagship store full-time between 2000 and 2006, and the intervening years seem to have erased my employer’s memories of my often gruff customer service, my habit of sleeping on the lunchroom couch, and my tendency to use the company Xerox machine to photocopy material for whatever I was writing. That summer, by the large windows along Burnside Street, I stood at the cash register and pushed keys for four to nine hours a day. But when the season ended, the store created a few permanent part-time cashier positions, and I didn’t land one. “We’re sorry to say we’ve found somebody else,” my manager said weeks after my interview. He wasn’t as sorry as I was—he, with a job to cover his mortgage and health insurance.

I was back where I started. I struck out on my own and became a house sitter. Read More »

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