Sunday, February 8, 2015

Review: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House by Eric Hodgins

If you've ever built a house, you are probably familiar with the myriad frustrations that plague such an endeavor. There's the dazzling array of choices you have to make, many of which you never once considered before signing on the dotted line with a builder. There are the inevitable slowdowns of work due to late deliveries, ornery inspectors, bad weather, and so forth. There are the unexpected problems and their resulting ballooning price tags, because the initial bottom line cost has never once in the history of building turned out to be the actual cost. But even with everything that can cause stress, it's worth it to be able to design exactly what you want in a home, right? The hilarious novel Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Home by Eric Hodgins might argue that.

Set in the 1940s, the novel is definitely dated, but it still manages to earn the reader's giggles. The Blandings, who have never before thought of living out of the City, have decided to build a country home. Mr. Blandings works in advertising and has been very successful with an important laxative account. His newly secure position makes him think that he should, like others of his level, build a home in the country, and his wife concurs. They traipse around the countryside, falling in love with a neglected, ramshackle, historic home and property on Bald Mountain just outside a small Connecticut town. And this is where their trouble starts. First they must deal with a slick real estate agent and the local owner, who is up-charging these city folk for the land by about 1000%. Then they hire an architect, and then another architect. Then they actually have to build their new home, deal with the tradesmen who come in to work on the place, and experience all of the pitfalls that every first time homebuilder experiences.

These experiences are completely and totally entertaining. Mr. Blandings can't decide whether it is better to lose face and be cheated or if it's better to confront people. His bumbling attempts to right wrongs and to make his dream home live up to billing are good fun. His constant totting up of the amount he's spending on this home, revised almost daily as his wallet takes hit after hit after hit, really strikes a cord. Everything that can go wrong for the Blandings does and Hodgins mines the deep humor in Mr. Blandings' resigned blusterings. Mrs. Blandings' inability to rein herself in and her complete lack of understanding how each decision she makes, especially once construction has started, snowballs into costing massive amounts of money is both pretty true to life and helps the reader understand Mr. Blandings' exasperation with her. The humor here can be over the top and Hodgins skewers his "act in haste, repent at leisure" characters pretty neatly. For all the Blandings' naivety and infuriating requests, the building trade doesn't get off scot free either. The numbers quoted for each bill are laughably low given today's costs but since the original budgeted cost is mentioned frequently, the reader will still get a sense of how far over budget the Blandings have gone. The book is a witty and entertaining comedy of errors filled with one liner gems, buried in the dry, sometimes biting presentation and it definitely makes me want to see the Cary Grant, Myrna Loy movie of the same name.

1 comment:

  1. My husband and I have built 5 houses, I'm sure I could relate to each and every one of the issues in this book! And we could probably add a few more :)


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