Reimagining. That’s what we fiction writers do. We take the stuff of our lives and reimagine it as fictional people, places and stories. Often our places aren’t fictional, but even familiar places may need a writer’s creative touch.
In my novel Absolution, Maggie and Richard live in a Back Bay townhouse on Boston’s Marlboro Street, a very posh address. And why not? Richard is a successful attorney. Yet that isn’t really why I put them there.
I have never lived in Boston or been inside a Marlboro Street townhouse or any Boston townhouse. My daughter and her husband, however, lived on Marlboro Street for two years, but not in what could be called a townhouse. More accurately, they lived behind the façade of what appears to be a townhouse. But it was actually a low-rent apartment building. My daughter was a grad student at the time and my son-in-law was working temp jobs. Their space in this building was a studio apartment with a loft. Nothing fancy. Once during the time they lived there, the building managers came around and disconnected everyone’s stove because the building had been zoned as a “rooming house.” Kitchens weren’t allowed. (They later reconnected them.)
The building shared a wall with a “real” townhouse which fit with Marlboro Street’s up-scale character. Its entrance steps were stone and an elegant chandelier could be seen in the foyer. The steps to my daughter and son-in-law’s building were grungy cement, and their building’s foyer was illuminated by a neon light. Instead of draperies, one of the front apartments had an old pull-down window shade. And this, just a few blocks down the street from Senator Ted Kennedy’s townhouse.
After a visit to Boston, I knew that Marlboro Street was exactly where Maggie and Richard would live. Here’s my description of their house in Absolution, which I reimagined with the help of photos found on the Internet:
There were three floors to the townhouse, one of many such houses in the eight-block area developed in the 19th century over a mud flat of the Charles River. Richard bought the place from a former client who had gutted a rooming house on Marlborough Street and remodeled it, dividing the building into two residences. It was a lovely old brick house, built in the early 1890s. The restoration retained the exterior walls with their bay and bow windows, the strapwood balustrades of the stairs, the wood mantels and most of the original oak floors, while the interior was fitted with new plumbing and wiring and appliances, new window frames and glazing. But half a townhouse made a vertical home, rooms atop one another on narrow floors, stacked like bricks.
Marlboro Street’s ambience, however, its iron fences, brick walkways and tucked away gardens, its wonderful old townhouses, these never needed a moment’s reimagining.