Book Review: ‘There’s No Place Like House’ by Taylor Bradley

Much is absent in Taylor Bradley’s latest book.

That observation is not an assessment of the component parts of the book — which catalogs segments of Bradley’s life from 2018 to 2020 — rather, “absence” is the aching touchstone of this well-built text.

Published in late 2022 by Bradley, a 2013 University of Iowa graduate, There’s No Place Like House (Barnes & Noble Press) is a memoir, presented as a series of photographs and essays. These narratives extend from 2018, in the immediate aftermath of a failed, decade-old, romantic relationship, to mid-2020 when COVID swallowed the globe.

Prior to this, Bradley has published poetry collections and written plays, at least one of which was part of the UI’s 10-Minute Play Festival in 2012.

Throughout There’s No Place Like House, Bradley establishes a slew of lackings, observing things as “not-my TV” and “not-my Grandpa” and the house of an “almost mother-in-law.”

Defining things in the negative risks losing a reader when they may be looking for narrative grounding. Thankfully, Bradley writes with a deft hand and is quick to define these vacuums after the first essay.

The most important absences are noted in the beginning and often take the spotlight in multiple essays. In particular “One-Inch Planet,” “Mary Poppins for Damaged Men” and “The Breakup” etch wretched failings with a surprisingly sympathetic hand.

Bradley’s time in the book is mostly focused in Los Angeles, while dipping in and out of London, New Orleans and Grand Junction, Colorado, among other places. As the essays continue, a somewhat recurrent cast of characters begin to take shape. An 80-year-old neighbor, an aging mother, a semi-estranged father and a handful of friends reappear throughout, but—keeping with the conceit of the book—none feel like permanent players, even when their presence (or lack thereof) is powerfully felt.

Dozens of photos illustrate settings, objects and people throughout the book. Many of these images lack distinguishable human faces, and when distinct faces do appear, it’s often in old, smiling family photos that add texture to Bradley’s already nuanced prose. Regardless of subject, these images tend to extrapolate on the text, rather than merely represent it.

The book’s title alludes to a line repeated in The Wizard of Oz by Dorothy Gale, played by Judy Garland. When Dorothy is spirited away to the land of Oz, she’s followed by her house but not its content. She has to get back to Kansas, back to her home.

At the start of this book, the narrator prepares to leave a house that is not her own. But unlike Dorothy, she is not beckoned “back to Kansas.” That is a place she intentionally fled. Without that clear and guiding star, our protagonist’s path is more tumultuous than any yellow brick road.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s March 2023 issues.