As I wrote in this series’ first installment, I found the Enfield Marine VA Hospital of the novel to be an only minimally disguised version of the real-life Brighton Marine Health Center. When I got up close to the building that was the basis for the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, I found the similarities more striking still:
Unit #6, right up against the ravine on the end of the rutted road’s east side, is Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, three stories of whitewashed New England brick with the brick showing in patches through the whitewash, a mansard roof that sheds green shingles, a scabrous fire escape at each upper window and a back door no resident is allowed to use and a front office around on the south side with huge protruding bay windows that yield a view of ravine-weeds and the unpleasant stretch of Commonwealth Ave.
Wallace gave the building a different exterior color (although the whitewash may have faded entirely) and a fancier roof, but the rest is true: the brick, the fire escape, the three stories (although it looks like two in front), the bay windows, the ravine, and its specific location as well. The sign outside even identifies it as Building 6.
As noted in this series’ second installment, I was somewhat uncomfortable visiting in the first place, and indeed I found a mixed reception on the premises. I paid two visits to Brighton Marine and its orbit, first on the Thursday of my arrival, and again the following Sunday.
Upon my initial visit, I met a handyman who had been around long enough to remember when the halfway house occupied Building 6. He appeared both surprised and gratified to learn that a famous novel had been based in part on these very grounds, and wrote down its title over my protestations that the book was really long. I wish I knew if he’d looked it up and, if so, whether he was still quite so excited after contemplating its mass.
But when I returned the following weekend, no sooner had I snapped a few retakes when I was collared by a woman from the main hospital building, who made me sit on a bench outside while she tracked down a superior. When they returned, I explained my interest in their facility honestly and earnestly, but this elicited no curiosity on their part, only a vague offer to send me a photo later, coupled with an invitation to leave. Having intruded long enough not to need the former, I graciously accepted the latter.