05 August 2010

Day 131: Great House

Great House by Nicole Krauss.  ISBN: 9780393079982 (Advance Reading Copy - publishes Oct. 12, 2010).

Don't let anyone tell you that this is a book about a desk and people's relationship to it (this is what I've seen on sneak peek reviews and the book blurb itself).  This is a book about a group of people who happen to have had this one particular desk in common.  The blurb itself is so misleading that it frustrates me to no end, in fact I may be writing the publicist and bitching about it.  It describes the desk as having, "enormous dimension and many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away."

Not so much.  In fact, that desk is barely mentioned, particularly after the first couple of chapters, when it is it's mostly in passing as *gasp* a piece of furniture.  This book is really about the people and their relationships with other people: sometimes they're the ones who own the desk and sometimes it's someone they know.  The point is, the blurb is doing a great disservice to this book, as so far it has been a pretty amazing read, especially since I was smart enough not to read the back of the book before I started reading the thing itself.  Hah!  That'll show you book reviewers.

The one thing the desk has been doing in the novel is serving as an emotional placeholder for a person.  Obviously it's a different person for each segment in the book (as the desk passes from hand to hand we get a new chapter/short story about relationships).  It reminded me of my own emotional placeholder, from which I am writing to you now, dear readers.

At Antioch I had a room mate and when we first moved in together his parents, who are amazing and generous people, bought us a little extra furniture.  We happened to be staying in a largish dorm room, so the bedside table and extra lamp was a nice touch that prevented us from having to walk all the way to the door...and Matthew rather liked sitting in the dark.  After ceasing to be room mates for a multitude of reasons, although still on speaking terms and good friends, I asked if I could keep the bedside table, and Matthew agreed being an amazing and generous person like his parents.

By the time I graduated I felt I no longer needed the bedside table, and so I offered it back to him.  When he said he didn't need it, I gave it to another Antioch student to continue the chain of generous giving (because while it is not the nicest table, it is still better than most furniture found in dormitories and I could have sold it).  It wasn't until after I found out that Matthew committed suicide that the bedside table all of a sudden became important to me.

It was as if that little piece of our lives together suddenly became the only way to hold onto him, and I just wasn't ready to let him go.  And while a piece of furniture could never replace him in my life, having something of his that I use and see and touch on a daily basis has been immensely comforting to me in a way that other things of his haven't been.  Especially since I started using it as my computer desk, which has been off and on for about two years now.

Matthew was a creative person, so it seems somehow fitting to use the table he gave me to pursue creative endeavors (my blog, the rare piece of poetry...which I've been writing again recently, etc.).  I may not be as talented as he was and I certainly can't fulfill his potential, but I hope that in a way his life is still impacting others through me.  And I may have reached the point where I can let go of his table, but it has become such a reassuring presence that I would be hard-pressed to part with it unless it became extremely damaged or worn.

Do you have any pieces of furniture that you particularly cherish?

**I would like to note that I do not typically form attachments to furniture and I've been known to sell, swap, or dump unwanted or unnecessary furniture at the drop of a hat.  The fact that the bedside table is small and can be unscrewed and made smaller is probably one attribute that has kept it in my life.  I do get attached to things, but not to the point where it will cause me inconvenience or extra money.


  1. I have two tables in my living room from my great-grandparents. One is circular and black with two shelves and a glass top, and it was my great-grandmother's table; the other is brown, rectangular with beveled edges and one shelf, and it was my great-grandfather's. Both tables sat in their den by their respective chairs, and I really associate those tables with them. Great post!

  2. Hi Trisha,

    Interesting that they had mismatched end tables in their living room. My grandparents tended to go in for the match furniture. They must be particularly precious to you since they likely reflected the individual personalities of the person who used them.

    Thanks for commenting. :-)

  3. I lugged a big ol' recliner from ohio to california because the first piece of furniture i ever bought for myself. it was really cheap from a goodwill and probably many people (or at least one) has engaged in sex acts upon it, but I don't care. it's all beat up and i lose things in its cracks and crenies sometimes, but I don't care. it's super cold in the winter and super hot in the summer (it's leather), but I don't care. it's my emeffing chair. but i will probably give it away if i ever move cross-country again because that was slightly annoying.


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