Home Body

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In what may be the most delightfully uncanny investigation of the domestic dwelling since Lewis Carroll, John Thorne puzzles out such enigmas as why things get lost in closets, why chairs have backs instead of fronts, what mirrors look at when we're not around, and why houses are rarely haunted anymore. His unexpected and occasionally unsettling answers transform the totally familiar - keyholes, floors, windows, doorknobs, cellars, stairways, bathtubs, even dust - into objects of mystery. In twenty colorful ...
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Overview

In what may be the most delightfully uncanny investigation of the domestic dwelling since Lewis Carroll, John Thorne puzzles out such enigmas as why things get lost in closets, why chairs have backs instead of fronts, what mirrors look at when we're not around, and why houses are rarely haunted anymore. His unexpected and occasionally unsettling answers transform the totally familiar - keyholes, floors, windows, doorknobs, cellars, stairways, bathtubs, even dust - into objects of mystery. In twenty colorful vignettes, Thorne recalls fragmented memories of the many places he has inhabited and converses on the seemingly unremarkable elements that make each house a home. Simple events such as sleeping on a pallet, finding himself on the wrong side of a locked door, having to wash dishes in the bathtub, or climbing to the attic to escape family life, have accreted over the years into a private mythology of the home. From the lifelong implications of every child's fear of falling out of bed to the "erotics of order" that define chests of drawers, Thorne teases out secrets that any householder or apartment dweller will find enchanting and true.
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Editorial Reviews

Scott McLemee

In Home Body, John Thorne meditates on the household -- the spaces within and among which we dwell. (Some of us do, anyway; not everyone is so lucky.) In the 20 little essays and prose-poems composing Thorne's book, he reflects upon such topics as the stairwell, the attic, the bathtub and the mirror. They are all very familiar objects (which is also to say, easily ignored). They structure private life, as girders do a building, but they seldom become the object of deliberate concentration. The components of a living space do sometimes make urgent demands on our attention, of course -- and a repair manual is the book for such moments. But Thorne, a talented food writer whose books include Outlaw Cook (1993) and Serious Pig (1996), has written something altogether different.

The best pages in Home Body follow the peculiar logic of daydreaming: "Anyone familiar with real keyholes knows there is nothing much to be seen through one -- certainly nothing to compare to the hold it has over our fantasies. This, I think, is so because there is, besides the mouth, another bodily orifice with which the keyhole might be associated ... one suggested by its shape, its location at exactly groin height, its relationship to the key, and especially its aura of secrecy, the tension between temptation and denial that surrounds any forbidden entry." This passage offers, in condensed form, the essence of Thorne's outlook and method. Home is where the body comes to rest, and special intimacy grows between the two. The dweller's use of the dwelling's features (the chair, the sink, the attic) are part of a conversation, the inner dialogue of our being in the world. The writer's work is to reproduce both the elements of that exchange and its tone.

Much the same point was made, decades ago, by French thinker Gaston Bachelard, whose brilliant work, Poetics of Space, Thorne probably knows. In contemplating the relation between the self and the world, Bachelard said, philosophers have tended to overlook a third region of being: the home, which forms a boundary or membrane between the two. In his intellectually powerful yet very sensitive treatment, Bachelard finds that poets have been more astute than metaphysicians in appreciating the logic of dwelling places. He would approve, I think, of Thorne's observation: "Every house must have its own space, a place in which to find its meaning apart from us ... Closets make us uneasy. We cannot dominate them the way we do other rooms. We feel like intruders when we go into them, strangers even. The closet is the room's room, the place where it retreats when we have filled it too much with ourselves."

As noted, Home Body is at its best when Thorne's writing displays the paradoxical qualities of the daydream: fluid yet precise. Frequently, though, the writing in Home Body is merely self-conscious and willed -- the product of a brain laboriously wracked to find something to say. "I don't think I've ever felt any fondness for field mice," one paragraph begins -- and it ends: "only a single letter separates pet from pest." There are some good essays in Home Body, and it rests on a sound foundation of insight. But too many pages are fabricated from thin panels of metaphor; the reader may get an uneasy feeling that the whole thing is about to disintegrate, like a house of cards. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This curious amalgam by Thorne (Outlaw Cook) combines essays on the erotic symbolism of the keyhole, the doorknob and the chest of drawers with exceedingly personal views on the chair ("a strange simulacrum of a beast"), the electric light ("the essential element of [the modern house's] charm") and the mirror ("the eye of the soul"). Thorne mentions the various homes he has stayed infrom the large two-family house of his grandparents to his small apartment in Manhattan's East Villageas the basis for his ruminations on such allied topics as the role of the fire escape in urban living and his hope of finding a bathroom that contains nothing more than a tub. Those who have concerned themselves with the mystique of the house will find Thorne a kindred spirit. The line drawings by Christian, whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, are a delight. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
Precise reveries about the essential, overlooked domestic elements that shape our perception of a home. Thorne, who usually writes about food (Serious Pig, 1996; Outlaw Cook, 1992), brings the eye for specifics of a culinary writer to meditations on beds, closets ("A house lives in the space where we do not. . . . The cellar is its base, the attic the apex, and every closet a column: a temple of invisible, unlived-in space"), chests of drawers, stairs ("A stairway isn't merely a means of getting up and down. It's also a kind of doorway between floors, which is to say, between two competing realms of space"), windows, bathtubs, chairs, and stoves. Such celebrations of the everyday can quickly become precious. Thorne's don't because he displays a deft wit and a talent for basing his musings on autobiographical incidents. A modest charmer.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780880015141
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/1997
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 111
  • Product dimensions: 6.75 (w) x 4.83 (h) x 0.62 (d)

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