Lily Willard is a tomboy and the apple of her daddy’s eye. School is out for the summer and Lily’s father had decided they need a bigger house for his wife, daughter, and five sons. Lily is angling for her own room, but this ambition takes a backseat when she meets the housewright and his twin sons, Oren and Ian, who live in a caravan. Lily teaches them to read and to ride and they teach her about building and are her companions for the summer, at least until they’re caught skinny dipping. Then it’s off to Hallie’s house for tea parties and dolls to re-establish Lily’s femininity and respectability while the twins are whipped so hard they’re scarred–one on the buttocks and one on the thighs, which is the only physical sign that distinguishes them.
They finish the house and Oren tells Lily he’ll be back for her. Scene change to Lily grown up and the town librarian. In walks handsome stranger asking her to help him write a letter to, you guessed it, Lily Willard. He begins courting her in earnest and building her a fantastic house. Lily begins writing letters to find Ian, who had been lost (literally) in WWI. She locates him in a hospital in Boston and he returns to their home, where they all live together. Ian is shell-shocked, but he can communicate with Oren without words and the three live a harmonious existence until one night at a Grange dance they waltz together and the town interprets their lives as not normal and begins shunning them. Luckily, Hallie’s banker husband has run off, probably with the pretty male clerk who quit the week before, and Lily soon sets up Hallie and Ian. Life is downhill for Oren and Lily from there. Hallie interrupts their harmony, insists on civilizing them, and is jealous of their intimacy. Eventually a wall is built down the middle of the house, after which Ian and Hallie buy a house from Sears, major slap in the face for the housewright, Oren, and so on.
Housewrights is beautifully written and probes questions of identity and love set in a the rigorous society of a small town. A wonderful quick read.