The subtitle of Matthew Batt's debut memoir, Sugarhouse: Turning the Neighborhood Crack House into Our Home Sweet Home (Mariner Books), pretty much says it all. Well, except for the fact that said crack house is located in Utah, which means that the book has a lot of Mormons (or, at least observations about Mormons), and that Batt's writing is as likely to make readers laugh as it is to break their hearts. The funniest moments involve encounters between Batt, who draws himself as a mildly effete, Ph.D. candidate, and the workaday contractors and tradesmen who, like the minor gods of The Odyssey, assist Batt and his wife, Jenae, on their journey home. These men are painted with such fine strokes that they seem to fill and break stereotypes in one fell swoop: the khaki shorts, golf shirt, and running shoes-wearing "Mister Professional Hardwood Floor Installer Guy"; the milk-drinking, belted-jumpsuit-clad carpet man. About the latter, Batt observes, "A belt on a jumpsuit is more redundant than a belt with suspenders. A belt on a jumpsuit is like lederhosen with suspenders and a belt. Perhaps he thinks the ladies like it." Set in the backdrop of the tale are the death of Batt's grandmother, the struggles of his mother, his relationship with his grandfather, and divorce in his group of friends. The story becomes as much about how families are built, broken, and mended as it is about how you can do the same to a house. Batt, who has since left Utah and landed in St. Paul, mines his experiences for a bigger truth, peeling back thick layers of Masonite to reveal maple floors below. (Photo by Bill Hickey)
Tue., July 10, 7 p.m., 2012
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