Little Things

Okay, so I lurk at a bunch of blogs, mostly reading, but occasionally posting a comment. A few weeks ago, I bounced over to Beth’s blog (Sum of Me) to read a blog and discussion about Pride & Prejudice as a romance novel. Me, I liked P&P, but Persuasion is my favorite Austen. And I posted a comment. And I keep going back every so often.Mondays are Smart Bitch days. I’m not so sure that I’m smart, but since it seems unfair to lurk without contributing anything, here goes:Have you ever read a book that is objectively good, but been so irritated by details that you couldn’t give it an unqualified recommendation? I read a book like that this past weekend.It’s petty, I know, but I can’t help it: details matter to me. Anyone with any foreign language ability or whose first language is not English cringes when they read incorrect phrases. And people hate reading about professions that aren’t quite right — the brilliant 24 year old surgeon, who apparently didn’t have to spend 4 years in med school and nearly a decade as a resident; the therapist who violates every ethics rule laid out by the APA about relationships with clients; etc. I just finished Nora Roberts’ Blue Smoke. I’ll admit upfront that I enjoy La Nora, her hard cover releases more than her pb trilogies (a little too woo-woo for me with the magic and ghosts), and I love J.D. Robb. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked this book up, being a resident of downtown Balmer (Baltimore, where the book is set, for the multitudes who don’t speak Baltimoron). The story itself was fine. Not a keeper for me, but still pretty good. But the real estate drove me crazy. The book is set in Little Italy. Half way through, the heroine buys a house, and the details were just wrong. Wrong how? Well, keeping in mind that there is some variation in Balmer rowhouses, the layout, the backyard, the parking and even the pricing was a little off.First, the layout: the average Balmer rowhouse is shotgun style, 12-14 feet wide at most. Most of the stairs to the second floor are perpendicular, creating the division of space between front room (living room) and parlor/dining room. There is no hallway. Half bath on the ground floor? Not impossible, but highly unlikely unless the house has been completely gutted and renovated. Unlikely because there just isn’t that much room after you’ve taken into account the kitchen, living room and dining room. And closets? Don’t even get me started. Most rowhouses were built at or before the turn of the 20th century, and have very little closet space. Coat closet downstairs — not likely. In fact, if there are any closets in the bedrooms, it is because at some point, the homeowner got tired of having large bureaus or armoires in every bedroom. The only place you’ll find a walk-in closet is in a new rowhouse or a rehab.Second, the backyard. Grass? In downtown Balmer? Lots of brick and slate patios and poured concrete, very little grass. My neighbor two doors up has grass in her backyard — she’s lived in that house for 72 years and never had it filled in. Otherwise, there isn’t a house that I’ve seen in Federal Hill, Little Italy, Locust Point, or Riverside Park (all neighborhoods in downtown Baltimore that have been rehabbed and yuppified) that has grass in it. Again, not impossible, but pretty unlikely. And the hero jumping the fence? Most fences in rehabbed houses are about 5-6 feet tall, for the express purpose of making sure that people cannot jump it. I know, the whole point of that scene was accessibility and bringing the h/h together, but it just didn’t work for me.Third, the parking. Unless you have converted your backyard into a parking pad, the parking in Little Italy is either on street, parallel parking, or in a pay lot. Most of the restaurants have either their own lot or an arrangement for stamping in local pay lots. SPOILER: the truck exploding on the street would have done a huge amount of collateral damage to other vehicles and likely the houses. The houses are not set all that far back from the street, three or four paces, and the streets are fairly narrow.Fourth, housing prices. This last part wasn’t such a big deal for me, because the details of the house purchase in the book were scarce; maybe the heroine lived for free in the apartment above the family restaurant for 10 years until she bought the house, so she had a big cushion. But still. Livable, affordable rowhouses in downtown Baltimore are like hens’ teeth. They are rare and expensive. Shells go for as much as $120,000 or more; rehabbed and renovated houses go for $250,000+, depending on the work. [FWIW, the rehabbed house nextdoor to me, three floors w/ CAC, hardwood, etc. is listed at $480,000; whether it’ll go for that is questionable, but that’s not out of the ordinary in some parts of the nicer neighborhoods.] Houses that haven’t been rehabbed but are still livable get snapped up within days on the market. The idea that a single public servant found and bought the house, and can afford the mortgage alone seems a little unlikely. Most people probably wouldn’t notice this stuff. But as an owner of a South Baltimore rowhouse, who searched high and low to find an affordable one on a single, professional’s salary, the details just irritated me. And because of that, I am having a hard time coming up with a kinder, happier review of Blue Smoke. Does that make me a bitch?jmc


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