Open House: Of Family, Food, Piano Lessons, and the Search for a Room of My Own.

Author:McNeil, Genna Rae
Position:Book Review

Patricia Williams, Open House: Of Family, Food, Piano Lessons, and the Search for a Room of My Own. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004. Pp. 256. Paper $24.00.

Patricia J. Williams has written a book that firmly establishes her as one of the most gifted writers and brilliant intellectuals of our time. We have come to expect the masterful blending of anecdote and analysis from this recipient of the MacArthur "genius" prize, Professor of Law at Columbia University, author of The Alchemy of Race and Rights (1992), The Rooster's Egg (1995), and Seeing a Color-Blind Future (1997); and columnist for The Nation "writing brave, leftist articles under the Joan of Arc byline 'Diary of a Mad Law Professor.'" Open House often exceeds expectations in its substance, sincerity, and style.

In a book that is at once a beautifully-written memoir and a series of brave, elegantly-argued critical essays, Patricia Williams offers the reader an opportunity to become intimately acquainted with her head and her heart. She also touches the reader's heart and expands the mind. With a skilled writer's ease and considerable charm, Williams uniquely transports the reader almost with stealth from personal recollection to the arresting and profound insight. She recalls a childhood performance in a student recital at the Boston Conservatory on which program all the children presented classical repertoire, except the African American trio in which she was placed by teachers. "They thought it would be 'cute' to have a black violinist, a black pianist, and a black cellist [Williams] playing 'Jimmy Cracked Corn."' Within seconds the reader is carried from the author's subsequent "hate" for "performing" to her decision to build her career performing through her writing and speaking "about race and gender, law and politics--topics about which people become easily unhinged." We enter into her efforts, punctuated with courage and consistency, "to find precisely the words that will wend their way through the turmoil of preconceptions," her dreams of "mak[ing] music effortlessly," and the larger human "yearn[ing] to harmonize" because the "human capacity to harmonize with one another is one of the most magical properties of the species, the essence of sympathy." No less skillfully, Williams begins and ends a warm and witty account of a day at home with her young adopted son by describing the "shelling of peas," in the midst of which we are called upon to meet her son's...

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