The Archaeology of Home: An Epic Set on a Thousand Square Feet of the Lower East Side
Freelance writer Katharine Greider works hard at doing right by her subject, a one hundred and 50-year-old tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side where she and her husband, David Andrews, spent several years creating their first real home. The Archaeology of Home is her second book; however, due to the personal nature of the subject matter, it feels like it is the first.
There is an almost self-conscious and nostalgic tone to the descriptions Ms. Greider provides the reader about her own experiences in the humble abode. She emphasizes the overwhelming evidence that we are heavily impacted by the place we call home. Our daily lives are filled with immediate issues and the layers of other lives lived before our occupancy are invisible to us. This layering of past lives seems novel and foreign to someone who currently occupies a 16-year-old development home in California that was brand new when it was purchased.
Ms. Greider begins the book with a painstakingly constructed history of the geography and populations that inhabited the Lower East Side area where Number 239, East Seventh Street now exists. The reader is made painfully aware of the appropriation of land from the Native Americans who had existed in the swampy area for hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans who imposed their style of cultivation and land division upon the place. Ms. Greider uses a monumental vocabulary that borders on pretentiousness when describing the various waves of inhabitants. Perhaps it is the source material that has influenced her voice? Regardless, the reader may need the assistance of a dictionary or Google to clarify the meaning of some of the words she has chosen.
The tale warms up as does Ms. Greider’s voice when she gets to the relationships that matter most to her. he two children she and her husband bring into the world during their occupancy of Number 239 are somewhat incidental to the telling. Rather, it is her marriage and the travails she endures sorting out the meaning of living in a space with others that seems to dominate her personal revelations.
Some years into the author’s occupancy, Number 239 is deemed uninhabitable by building officials as its foundation has crumbled and the damp basement is a harsh reminder of the original swamp where the building was placed a century and a half ago. Because Ms. Grieder and her husband are co-op owners, they must deal with the other members of the co-op in order to decide the fate of the structure. Their struggle is easy to relate to for anyone who has been a dweller in a multiunit building or planned unit development. No spoiler alert needed here as a quick search of Zillow will reveal the current status of the location.
The Archaeology of Home is an interesting and admirable, though flawed, effort by a New Yorker who clearly loves the notion of small parts of a city being home in the truest sense.