HOUSE is a factual narrative detailing the construction of a moderately expensive single-family house near Amherst, Massachusetts. Tracy Kidder provides considerable detail about the mechanics of construction, but his focus is on the interaction among the architect, the contractors, and the couple building the house. The humor as well as the anxiety involved in the process are clear, but Kidder never descends to the fatuous exaggerations of such previous books on the subject as MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE.
The building of this house involves a continuing series of negotiations among the parties involved. All of them are deeply committed to the success of the project, all of them are conscientious and responsible, all of them give their best efforts. Inevitable difficulties, however, arise. There is faulty communication between architect and builders. There is conflict between the clients’ desire for economy in construction and the builders’ reluctance to use any but the best materials and methods. At the same time, at a crucial point, the builders refuse for their own financial reasons to upgrade the level of materials specified in the contract. Above all, there are the tensions created by the very different personalities and the conflicting interests of the people involved. When the house is at last finished, all parties are pleased with the completed work, but all feel lingering dissatisfactions.
Kidder does a superb job of showing how these interactions affect the process. All of the individuals are presented in depth, so that their actions are clearly understandable. The major achievement of the book is to show that mutual good will, craftsmanship, conscientiousness, and a common goal can result in a successful cooperative endeavor, despite differences in personalities and ideas.