November 04, 1985 12:00 PM

by Tracy Kidder

“Architects and builders, Arabs and Jews. They don’t get along,” says Jonathan Souweine, a lawyer who is having a house built in Amherst, Mass. Much of the tension in this book—a model of how to turn nonfiction into a suspenseful, gripping tale—comes from the fact that Souweine wants to bargain over the price, and Jim Locke, his builder, does not believe in bargaining. Kidder, author of the Pulitzer prizewinning The Soul of a New Machine, has told the story of the creation of a house from its beginning as Souweine’s dream. Kidder not only turns the architect and four carpenters into characters far more interesting and complex than one finds in most novels, but also includes all sorts of fascinating information about the history of Greek Revival design and the lore of wood used in construction. The house itself becomes an acclaimed jewel, and the day the family moves in is packed with emotion for the reader. Kidder is at his best delineating the people who made that emotion possible—especially Locke. Among all the workers “who have laid hands on the Souweine house this summer,” Kidder writes, “Jim clearly feels most restless, not for an escape from his trade or even for great riches, but for some reconciliation of his visions of what he might have been and what he is and what he could become.” This book is full of such powerful, rich, enjoyable moments. (Houghton Mifflin, $17.95)

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