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The Big House

"The Big House" is a  beautifully-written account of a family's century of living in a rambling home on Cape Cod.
“The Big House” is an account of a family’s century of living in a rambling home on Cape Cod.

I read The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home entirely while sitting on beaches in Eastham. That was by choice  rather than by accident, as I knew it was about a 100-year-old house on Cape Cod, and I felt that reading it while on the Cape would amplify the good or bad in it. And it did. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The book is about the extended family that lived, loved, wedded, divorced, and endured alcoholism and affairs in a rambling home on Wing’s Neck near Buzzard’s Bay. It’s also about the Boston Brahmin society that produced them and perpetuated a way of life that now has become all but extinct.

When the extended family of the author, George Howe Colt, was faced with the sale of the crumbling house where he had spent all of his 42 summers, Colt brought his wife and children to The Big House for one last stay. In his book he recounts endless hours of childhood play in the brambles and thickets outside the door, sailing excursions, hide-and-go-seek sessions with legions of cousins, the first time he kissed a girl, and explorations through seemingly endless hallways and cubbyholes in the home’s jumble of gables and dormers, where mice nesting in walls seemed to be part of the home’s shabby charm.

As a 2005 review in The New Yorker noted, “Colt’s account, like the house that lies at its center, is full of surprises and contains more than seems humanly possible: a family memoir, a brief history of the Cape, an investigation of nostalgia, a catalogue of local fauna, a study of class, and a meditation on the privileges and burdens of the past.”

I highly recommend this book. It would make a great beach read during your Eastham vacation.

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