Braving Home

Braving Home, at Halpern’s Braving Home (also in softcover) easily took my interest. Here’s how John Moe described it for

As a cub reporter at The New Republic, Jake Halpern earned the unofficial job title of Bad Homes Correspondent. Braving Home tells his stories of places where people really ought not live and the people who live there anyway. Halpern traveled to such inadvisable destinations as a bed and breakfast at the foot of an active Hawaiian volcano, a North Carolina town trying to recover from being completely submerged, an indoor Alaskan city, and an island in the Gulf of Mexico located directly in the cross hairs of numerous hurricanes. And while the places themselves make for interesting historical lore, the people who choose to stay and make their homes there form the real heart of the story. The doomed, it seems, get few visitors but have plenty of time on their hands. So Halpern goes out to meet them, crashes on their couches or guest beds and hangs out for a few days forming a one-man tourist industry. Far from being the kooks one might expect, Halpern’s subjects come across as normal folks, though significantly more resilient than most, who stay in their homes simply because, well, those are their homes. Halpern himself figures prominently in most of the stories and at times it seems like the young man is spending too much time navel gazing. But on each of the book’s five adventures, Halpern goes from wide-eyed visitor to welcome member of the community and in so doing demonstrates how, once you get used to it, any place can feel like home. Even if that it’s surrounded by molten lava.

Halpern visits homes in Princeville North Carolina, Whittier Alaska, Kalapana Hawaii, Malibu California, and Grand Isle Louisiana. Some of the homemakers are following long held family traditions, others are intentionally isolating themselves in their inhospitable environments.

Despite my interest in Halpern’s concept, I found it to be a mixed read. He goes looking for some deeper meaning or significance in the way these people cling to their homes, but largely comes up empty. People, it would seem, do inexplicable things. There are times I wished told me more. In Alaska, for instance, he could have done more to explain what economic activity sustained Whittier today.

Update… here are two relevant Wikipedia articles about Hawaii: Kalapana Hawaii and Volcanoes National Park. The Times ran a story that mentioned the Lava Side Inn last week. It’s With Vulcan as My Landscaper in the June 30 2005 Home & Garden section. If I was cool I’d give you an OpenURL link for this.