Dee Williams was living the dream—the American Dream. She had a three-bedroom house with a driveway and a mortgage. She had stopped spending weekends in the mountains with her friends, trading that carefree existence for more adult matters such as rewiring the bathroom. She worked full-time and traveled too much. Then one day, she woke up in the emergency room, diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition. Life was never going to be the same, but not in the usual way these stories go.

Williams’ memoir The Big Tiny tells the story of her ambitious idea to chuck the big house and build her own home—all 84 square feet of it. Like other memoirs about a transformation, Williams describes her moment of inspiration, followed by the hurdles she faces along the way: self-doubt, design questions, letting go of material possessions, hiccups in the building process, physical injury, not to mention where to park the tiny house once it’s finished. The tiny house itself—part of a movement of small dwellings that has been catching on across the country—has a design that is appealingly practical and simple, cleverly arranged and subversive, almost like a child’s playhouse for adults.

What makes this memoir unique is Williams’ voice, with its quirky, self-deprecating humor and emotional transparency. While she constantly pokes fun at her own foibles, she also allows us into her fears as she starts over after a health scare. She also reveals how her tiny home brings her into close community with friends and family, which helps her rediscover a meaningful existence through relationships with others.

The Big Tiny is not a construction manual, but don’t be surprised if it leads you to wonder how you could build a tiny house of your own.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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