Evan Soltas
Sep 25, 2012

'You Can't Go Home Again'

Claes Bell, an analyst and writer for Bankrate.com, points me to Thomas Wolfe's 1947 novel, You Can't Go Home Again, for a literary description of the insane housing boom of the 1920s, which I am talking about in today's Bloomberg piece. I've never read the entire book before, but for me, the selection he highlights brings the data to life. From the chapter "Boom Town":

On all sides [one] heard talk, talk, talk--terrific and incessant. And the tumult of voices was united in variations of a single chorus--speculation and real estate. People were gathered in earnestly chattering groups before the drug-stores, before the post office, before the Court House and the City Hall. They hurried along the pavements talking together with passionate absorption, bestowing half-abstracted nods of greeting from time to time on passing acquaintances.

The real estate men were everywhere. Their motors and buses roared through the streets of the town and out into the country, carrying crowds of prospective clients. One could see them on the porches of houses unfolding blueprints and prospectuses as they shouted enticements and promises of sudden wealth into the ears of deaf old women. Everyone was fair game for them--the lame, the halt, and the blind, Civil War veterans or their decrepit pensioned widows, as well as high school boys and girls, negro truck drivers, soda jerkers, elevator boys, and bootblacks.

Everyone bought real estate; and everyone was "a real estate man" either in name or practice. The barbers, the lawyers, the grocers, the butchers, the builders, the clothiers--all were engaged now in this single interest and obsession. And there seemed to be only one rule, universal and infallible--to buy, always to buy, to pay whatever price was asked, and to sell again within two days at any price one chose to fix. It was fantastic. Along all the streets in town the ownership of the land was constantly changing; and when the supply of streets was exhausted, new streets were feverishly created in the surrounding wilderness; and even before these streets were paved or a house had been built upon them, the land was being sold, and then resold, by the acre, by the lot, by the foot, for hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

A full version of the text, available through Project Gutenberg of Australia, can be found here.