Carpenters are a complex breed. Most have — or quickly develop — a tough outer image, the better to blend into the locker-room atmosphere found on most jobsites. But beneath that shell, you'll often find the softer side of men who become attached to the materials they use, who care deeply about the homeowners for whom they work, and who take great pride in their craft.
Author Mark Clement gives us a rare, insightful look at that emotional side in his inaugural work, The Carpenter's Notebook. The story tracks Brendan Herlihy, who, one turbulent summer in his mid-30s, moves out of the house he shares with his wife and two daughters and moves into the house he grew up in. His task: to turn his father's old workshop into an art studio for his widowed mother.
Brendan's late father, Gideon, was a carpenter, and during his retirement he drew up plans for the remodel, which Brendan — who worked for his father as a teenager but who hasn't picked up a tool since — aims to follow. In poking around the old shop, Brendan also discovers a clipboard that contains pages and pages of how-to building instructions, along with Gideon's reflections on life and how it relates to building. As Brendan becomes increasingly immersed in the project, he spends more and more time pondering the contents of those pages, gaining insight on his life and his ever-colder relationship with his wife, along with a renewed appreciation for the man he called “Dad.”
Although this is Clement's first foray into creative writing, he's no stranger to publishing or to carpentry; he is executive editor of TOOLS OF THE TRADE magazine (a sister publication of REMODELING), and he spent the years before that working as a contractor. Clement stresses that The Carpenter's Notebook is not autobiographical, but adds, “it's all made up, except that it's true.” Indeed, Clement needs all of 1½ pages in the preface to prove to readers that the story, although not a word-for-word account of his life, is a very personal one.
The book is not without its faults. At times, it's clear that this is Clement's first book; he occasionally lapses into using clichéd or repetitive adjectives, and the story sometimes gets tangled in overly descriptive passages. However, the book's unique structure — nearly every chapter begins with an authentic-looking section of Gideon's notebook containing real building instructions before moving the narrative along — makes it a quick, fun read, refreshing characteristics in a work that tugs so strongly at the heartstrings. Although The Carpenter's Notebook has something in it for everyone, Clement says, “carpenters will really get it.”
Center Line Media ( www.centerlinemedia.com) is also publishing Clement's second book, The Kid's Carpenter's Workbook. It's a DIY book, written for professionals as well as for hobbyists, and filled with projects that families can complete together.