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Home sweat home

A classic battle between a man and his fixer-upper

By Marie Ewald / June 29, 2004



How could a little house nestled in a quaint New York hamlet cause so many problems, cost so much money, and conspire so maliciously against a newly married couple?

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Picasso once said, "Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." But for the gritty detail of how truly destructive that first phase can be, turn to "Gutted: Down to the Studs in My House, My Marriage, My Entire Life," by Lawrence LaRose.

A personal tale of home renovation, volatile marriage, and unbridled hubris, "Gutted" describes how LaRose and his wife transformed a "toenail yellow" ramshackle fixer-upper into their dream home, armed at first with only a small crowbar and grand delusions.

LaRose got laid off from a software company soon after they closed on a $265,000 Hamptons house. When supplies and services wiped out any remaining savings, they had to dig between their car seats for change to buy pizza - fuel for the endless hours of stripping Sheetrock and laying tile.

Bear in mind that just a year earlier LaRose was one of Manhattan's most notorious bachelors and a coauthor of "The Code: Time-Tested Secrets for Getting What You Want from Women - Without Marrying Them!" He boasts a master's in comparative literature at NYU. He's used to waxing philosophic about Derrida with a doting date at a Greenwich Village café, not talking toilets with his strong-headed wife at the home-improvement store. "Home Depot will show you in four thousand cavernous aisles just how unalterably Other your significant other really is," he writes.

If the Hamptons is a paragon of gracious living, LaRose's story is a hilarious counterpoint. When he's at the bank, reluctantly liquidating his retirement account, he overhears a man transfer "just fifty thou" to his wife in Aspen. LaRose bitterly ponders his own wish list: a new exit line to his septic tank. (He accidentally destroyed the old one.)

"It feels one mullet and two thrown chairs away from The Jerry Springer Show," he writes about camping out at the in-laws'. Despite nostalgic glances at his former life, LaRose hammers home his new blue-collar existence. In a fit of genius or insanity, he even bluffs his way onto a Hamptons construction crew, where he's introduced to an eclectic cast of characters and a wide array of tools and skills.

Disaster strikes regularly, but divorce is averted, and the couple completes their dream home just in time to tackle yet another major challenge: parenthood.

Marie Ewald is a former Monitor staff member.

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