Review

Housewrights

by Art Corriveau



Art Corriveau's imagination is rooted in New England, and
HOUSEWRIGHTS is an homage to these headwaters. The emotionally
adroit plot is spun from a love story that confronts the social
expectations of Cabot Fields, a small Vermont town, at the turn of
the 20th century. This is Art Corriveau's first book and it as
sweet and at times as slow as Yankee maple syrup.

Modernism is flowing through the major centers of capitalism and
industry, it is the time of the First World War, but in Lily
Williard's hometown it is still as quiet as it always has been.
Corriveau's descriptions of the town are specific, natural and
beautiful. Lily is the protagonist and she is a wildflower ---
growing up with only brothers, she is a tomboy who plays on her
parents 500 acre farm outside of town. It is no mistake that the
most splendid passages of freedom and passion take place in the
countryside. The townsfolk inflict structure on the natural
instincts of Lily's heart, starting when we are introduced to her
at age eight and continuing the length of the novel.

The conflict begins as a young Lily must curb her intuition after
she is caught skinny dipping with the twin boys of the housewright
who is commissioned to build her parents' new home. The twin boys
are Oren and Ian Pritchard, who are part Abenaki Indian but
towheaded and all gypsy because of the transient carpenter life
their father leads. The boys spend a short summer in Cabot Fields
learning to read and to ride the Williard's pony before they must
leave with their father for more work.

As a result of her mother's pressure to civilize her, Lily
befriends Hallie Burke, a proper girl who concerns herself with the
duties of future domesticity. The young tomboy Lily eventually
becomes a woman, serving as the town's librarian. The impression
she made on the twin brothers remains strong, and 10 years after he
leaves Oren Pritchard arrives in the town with the purpose of
making Lily his bride. The two become engaged despite the lack of a
true romantic spark. Lily eventually finds love in Oren and they
wed, build a house on her parent's land and slowly begin a life
together.

Oren's twin Ian is serving in the Great War and comes to live with
the young couple after he is wounded in battle. Not long after her
marriage, Lily is living with two identical men who are closer to
each other than she is to her own husband. Surprisingly, this
predicament makes for a pleasant and happy threesome. However, when
the congeniality of their closeness is misread by the strict
expectations of the town, Lily looses her job and the structure of
their happy home is thrown into disarray. Order quickly returns
with the reintroduction of Hallie Burke. The depths of her
duplicity are revealed only after she wrangles the lonesome twin
brother Ian and marries him. The two couples begin to share the
house and start attending church every Sunday under the duress of
Hallie. Lily is offered her job back at the library and their lives
are restored, but without the same innocence.

Interspersed throughout the relationship of Lily and Oren are short
passages of visceral sexual desire that seem sharply out of place
on first reading. The descriptions seem cumbersome in their
addition to the story. I do admire Corriveau's insistence to view
these characters as real human beings despite the time period with
which he concerns himself. These passages do, however, appear to be
tactlessly added to the text as a spicy afterthought.

The story strongly survives because the world Corriveau weaves is
written in the same authentic vein as Charles Frazier's COLD
MOUNTAIN. Corriveau has enriched the story with detailed historical
content from the turn of the century. Passages concerning the
architecture of early New England to the method of making maple
syrup while drinking dandelion wine are as authentic as a cedar
shingled roof. Deeper still is a tangible love story, smitten with
all of the peccadilloes that intimate human politics create. The
manner in which the characters interact with each other and offer
up their love is reminiscent of the simple bittersweet descriptions
of emotions in Kent Haruf's PLAINSONG.

Reviewed by R. Scott Hillkirk (rscotthillkirk@hotmail.com) on January 22, 2011

Housewrights
by Art Corriveau

  • Publication Date: June 25, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0142002097
  • ISBN-13: 9780142002094