• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #114: 80 Front Street, Exeter


80 FRONT STREET, EXETER!

I've driven down Front Street in Exeter thousands of times, and every once in a while the stately brick house a couple of doors down from the Inn catches my eye. It's a house that belongs to Gravesend as much as Exeter, to fiction as much as reality. It's Johnny Wheelwright's house from A Prayer for Owen Meany, and I've never been entirely sure if I love the book so much because it's set in Exeter or if I love Exeter that much more because my favorite book takes place there. That's like asking if you love your wife because she's beautiful or if she's beautiful because you love her. At some point it doesn't matter and just is.


When the house does catch my eye, I'm forcibly reminded of how much of that masterful book happens there. It's Epcot Irving, and the historian and writer in me meld together into a fanboy virtual tourist. Where on that front stoop would Johnny's grandmother stand to inform mistaken visitors that they had not yet arrived at the Gravesend/Exeter Inn? Which of those windows might provide a glimpse of Johnny's mother's dressmaker's dummy, draped in that red dress? Which end of the attic did Owen scream in? Which of those bushes did Hester puke in on New Year's? Which house did Mr. Fish live in with Sagamore?


I know it's not real, of course, not in the strictest sense. But I've read the book so many times, and driven by the house so many times, that the line between real and unreal is deliciously blurred. And while the events of the book are fictional, the places that inspired them are not. And I love them both. That's all the reality I need.

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