It has always fascinated me how many stories four walls can hold. The mundane and the dramatic coexist on the same stage in a home. A house’s lifespan is not like that of the humans who live inside it; within its years of providing comfort and shelter, it can contain multitudes of stories.
This is the thought at the heart of The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, a memoir told through the lens of life within the titular yellow house in New Orleans and the triumphs and trials of the people in it until the house’s ultimate and untimely demise after Hurricane Katrina. It’s a lens that puts Broom’s entire massive family as the subject of the memoir, rather than it being a memoir of Broom’s life alone (she is the youngest of twelve) but it manages to do so without too much sentimentality. Her writing is strong. The story is tender.
Which makes me feel so bad for being so bored as I read it.
I’ve heard so much about The Yellow House for months (it won the National Book Award for nonfiction; it won Best First Book by the National Book Critics Circle, the New York Times and the Washington Post named it one of their respective top 10 books of the year; NPR put it in its annual Book Concierge) and I love this idea for framing a story as life from the perspective of a house (see also, Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here). But page after page felt like a slog and I kept checking my progress to the end only to find that I hadn’t even read another percent more since the last time I looked.
This was likely for reasons out of The Yellow House‘s control. For one thing, The Yellow House stood between me and Madeline Miller’s Circe, which I’ve been dying to read (the due date was coming up quicker), so there may have been some resentment there. I’ve also read a lot of books lately with somewhat difficult subject matter, so I may just be a little burned out on all this Meaningful Prose stuff. Or maybe I just wasn’t the audience for this. That’s a thing, too, and it’s okay. Not everything can hit everybody the same, nor should it.
Not all of The Yellow House felt like a slog to me. I decided I’d give it until the halfway point and then let myself move on if I wasn’t more engaged (bring on Circe!). At exactly halfway through the book, Hurricane Katrina hits. I remember seeing news coverage of Hurricane Katrina way back in the day but I grew up in a small town in the West so I couldn’t even fathom that much water being in any place at once. Broom does a fantastic job of telling the story about the house—and the city—drowning, as well as how those who were stuck inside it when the hurricane hit, including two of her brothers, survived. While the rebuilding that followed could not possibly have been as gripping as reading about the tragedy itself, Broom gives a close glimpse of the problems and hurdles faced in the undertaking and I was thoroughly interested in the racial, geographical, and classist factors that exacerbated the disaster.
The Yellow House is a strong and thoughtful book. It is probably an Important Book, too. I would be surprised if I re-read it, but I don’t re-read a lot of things. And again, I’m probably not the audience for it or I could have simply read it at the wrong time to get the most out of it. It was a good book, just not one I fell in love with. I’m not sad to have read The Yellow House but I am glad that I finished.