Urbane Renewal

Claire Messud, the best-selling author of The Emperor’s Children, discovers the grown-up pleasures of her adolescent playground

(Cheryl Carlin)
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The prejudice, though, remained with me all these years, and against all logic. When house-hunting in Boston several years back, immensely pregnant and with a 2-year-old in tow, I stubbornly refused to consider Brookline or Newton, or in fact anywhere else where the public schools were any good, but instead cleaved willfully to my adolescent dream of who I was (the intellectual in Harvard Square!) and landed as close by as our resources would allow, upon a hill behind Somerville's Union Square, a mile from Harvard Yard, in an all-but-straight line that leads past my parents' grad student digs and the resurrected butcher Savenor's, where the late Julia Child no longer shops but we frequently do.

Unlike my earlier Boston lives, this one is not imaginary. It is bounded by playgrounds and car repairmen, by the endless two-block loop that is all our dachshund with back trouble can manage for her walks. It is a life of delicious mundanity, in which the supermarket run or the weeding of our tiny patch of yard is of recurring and vital importance. For unexpected thrills, we take the ferry to George's Island, across the glistening harbor, and picnic with our children in the ruined fort. It is unglamorous and glorious. If you'd told me, 20 years ago, that I would live in Boston for four years and know barely any more restaurants than when I arrived, I would have blanched. If you'd told me I would go to the symphony, or the opera, or the theater only about once a year and that the only films I would see would be rated G, I would have been horrified. My idea of myself, like my idea of home, was so very different. But Boston proves to be as wonderful a place for a boring real life as it was for an exciting but imaginary one. Until now, I had always contemplated the next move; now, I contemplate how to avoid it; which I think means that Boston is, after all these years, home.

Claire Messud has written three novels and a book of novellas.


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