Our Favorite Essays and Stories About Home

8 writers consider the question "what does it really mean to go home?"

Holiday season is in full swing; most of us are replacing half our blood with eggnog, listening to Christmas music 24/7 whether we want to or not, and either hanging out with our (birth or chosen) families or pointedly declining to. No matter what you celebrate, or don’t, this is a time of year most associated with family and going home. So, whether you’re re-watching Home Alone for the 50th time in your reindeer pajamas or doing other secular non-Christmas-related activities, read some of the best short stories and essays we’ve published about home. 

Reading the Odyssey Far From Home” by Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi 

Not all of us have a home that we can return to, whether that’s because you’ve cut ties or because you never had one in the first place. For Oloomi it’s the latter, because of a lifetime of moving from place to place. In this essay she maps Odysseus’ quest back to Ithaca onto a desire to find a similar sense of home in South Bend, Indiana.

Given the disorienting cartography of my life, there isn’t a singular home for me to return to. I am from nowhere; or, perhaps, I am from a constellation of places which habits and social codes violently contradict one another, leaving me empty handed. That emptiness, though excruciatingly painful, has also allowed me to cultivate emotional and psychological dexterity, to embrace digression, and to comfortably linger on the shores of foreign cities on my impossible search for a place to call home. 

The Stories That Helped Me Embrace the Rural South” by Caleb Johnson 

In contrast, Johnson is deeply rooted in a sense of place—often misrepresented or rendered invisible in literature—that he always thought wasn’t worth claiming. As an adult he encounters the work of Larry Brown, which illuminates how wrong he was and proves that the South is worthy to be written about. 

But I loved [Larry Brown’s] book in an elemental way. Partly because Jessica had given it to me, but also because it struck a nerve. Here was a story set in a rural South I recognized, written by a man whose slight grin and neat mustache resembled my father’s. According to my limited understanding of art and who made it, Dirty Work shouldn’t have existed. Maybe that’s why I embraced it so.

The Good Hours” by Desiree Cooper  

How do you deal with the slow erosion of your neighborhood and your childhood home? Desiree Cooper wrestles with this heart-wrenching dilemma in her short story of a family watching as their neighborhood disappears around them.

There is a plague upon our house. It’s making the thin wallpaper curl, the tongue-and-groove floors moan. We have lost our grasp on tomorrow. We pretend to still have jobs as we come and go, waving at the neighbors. But we all know that this infection will spread. At least once a week during my walks, I see a new sign: “Bank Owned,” or “Auction.” Overnight, a white document appears on a neighbor’s front door. The opposite of lamb’s blood — a sign that God will not protect them.

Finding Community in a Queens Bodega” by Amy Brill 

Neighborhoods can be just as much a part of our home as our physical houses. There are also geographical touchstones where everyone in the neighborhood gather. For Amy Brill, the bodega by her house was essential in creating the sense of community that shaped her childhood. 

The walk to Tony’s, down Xenia Street in Corona, Queens, isn’t about the Pepsi or Doritos I say I need, or the milk or American cheese my mother sometimes sends me out for. The dim interior with its two crowded aisles, neon chip bags, array of snack cakes and obligatory slinking cat aren’t that compelling. It’s what’s going on outside that draws me. I can’t say what it’s like now, but in 1984, when I was fourteen and out on my own, that’s where the whole neighborhood hung out.

“Pedestrian” by Elisabeth Geier

Whether it manifests itself in watching bad rom-coms while eating ice cream or crying in the toilet seat section of your local hardware store, everyone deals with break-ups in their own way. This short essay deftly tackles the aftermath of starting to re-building a home for one when you thought you’d be making it with someone else. 

The dog and I walk to the hardware store in the snow like that first winter in Chicago when we were still young and brave. We were one and 22 then. We are 12 and 33 now. We need keys for the new place where we’re starting our new life, and snow makes newness feel safe. We slide down the sidewalk with that old sense of promise, two girls against the world, the city a glistening pearl at our feet.

You Should Never Go Home: Fiction and the Suburbs in Judy Blume and Karolina Waclawiak” by Jason Diamond

Two books separated by decades manage to tread familiar ground when it comes to the suburbs. This essay, too, treads the ground of a childhood growing up in the suburbs and an adulthood spent trying to avoid going back to them.

The suburbs were built to crumble. They’re places built on lies and kept up by blind eyes. Some fiction writers have explored this; maybe the most notable being John Cheever, who sometimes gets the tag “Chekhov of the suburbs.” But books like Wifey and The Invaders, although written and published with a few decades between them, don’t shy away from looking at what goes on behind closed doors. 

Addition” by Ben Hoffman

Are the strange elderly people who live in your home ghosts or just your in-laws? Our confused protagonist’s attempts to figure this out, consulting both a medium and his absentee wife on this dilemma, bring about more questions than answers. 

I began to hear funny noises coming from the addition we had built on our house: some whimpers, groans, some clattering. I did not investigate; in general I tried to avoid the addition. I was never clear on its purpose or what it had added. Then one afternoon an old man in a robe emerged from our laundry room carrying a basket. He nodded courteously, said “Excuse me,” and continued back down the hall to the addition, leaving a trail of white dust behind him.

“Jagatishwaran” by Chaya Bhuvanswar

Sometimes, home cannot be found in the house or the body. This narrator is confined to his room —believed to be suffering from an unnamed mental illness by his family. But he still strives to find moments of peace in a life that isn’t his own. 

I shelter myself from the house with second-hand screens, four of them, made of wood that looks better for the dust on it, less costly and more secure. I write after the others have gone to bed, hiding my diaries and papers during daylight hours. Sometimes their faces flash by me in the darkness, as if they were peering in rudely through a space between the screens. Even the trees in the garden move away from the house, as if in disgust. 

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