Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Report: Confessions of a Country Architect by Don Metz

Confessions of a Country Architect, by Don Metz, is not the kind of book that I would've picked up on my own.  As you know, I gravitate toward fiction of a bubblegum bent and am not apt to have my head turned by the real-life trials and tribulations of a New England architect.  However, I received the book as a gift and so approached it with a reading-for-reading's sake attitude.   

That perspective served me well.  When you love language, sometimes even a less-than-stellar story can be made enjoyable by good writing.  Fortunately, the architect steering this memoir also happens to be a novelist who can infuse a day at the quarry with excitement.  Yale-educated Metz weaves the highs and lows of his career with funny and sometimes tender client experiences in his fresh account of the road less traveled.  Having abandoned a cushy job in a Connecticut design firm, Metz tells of hanging out his shingle in rural New Hampshire.  Not that there's anything provincial about the sumptuous second homes he designs and describes with unstinting detail.  A self-professed Teuton raised on thrift and practicalities, Metz reveals a deep-seated love for his craft and a kinship with natural surroundings, values that contrast with those of his more worldly fellow architect and friend Lamar:

"Lamar hoped to become a junior partner at SOM within the next five years.  Another ten might see him in charge of overseeing multiple projects and flying around the world selling SOM's services to ambitious clients.  He seemed comfortable with the idea of working at SOM until he retired, as if no other options were feasible.  For the first time since I'd met him, I felt a twinge of pity when I imagined the all-too predictable arc of his life.  Working for a huge organization, fitting in, behaving well, promoting the brand - it all seemed to me like an abdication of freedom."  (Metz 54-55).

After reading that, I thought, "I like this guy."  To be fair, I also wondered if Lamar was offended. 

Not all of Metz's musings are so lofty.  One of his most entertaining anecdotes features a reclusive married female client who seduces the local handyman into running away with her.  Yet another yarn stars a well-meaning couple who urge Metz to hire an English professor-turned-chef to build their dream house, the outcome of which is the proverbial recipe for disaster.  Finally, one of Lamar's ex-girlfriends sets out to win Metz's affections in a sequence faintly reminiscent of the give-and-take between George (Jeremy Sisto) and Dallas (Cheryl Hines) on ABC's "Suburgatory." 

Amusements aside, what compelled me most about Confessions of a Country Architect was Metz's unswerving commitment to his vision.  As cheeseball as it may sound, he followed his heart even though it wasn't easy.  I don't know about you, but I find that Barbie dream house-level inspiring. 

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