Little Pink House
by Jeff Benedict
(Grand Central, 416 pages, $26.99)
Susette Kelo couldn’t have known that she was on her way to becoming a folk hero in 1997 when she bought a run-down Victorian cottage overlooking New London, Conn.’s Thames River. The 40-year-old EMT just needed a place to make a fresh start after a failed marriage. But when a state-backed redevelopment plan was announced a few months later, Kelo and several of her neighbors turned down buyout offers and decided to fight. That fight went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. In a 5–4 decision, the court upheld Connecticut’s right to seize the homes of Kelo and her neighbors. Public outrage was so great that 43 states have since amended their laws to prevent such seizures.
Jeff Benedict’s account of the most famous eminent domain case of our time “might have been a dull story,” said Tom Condon in The Hartford Courant. But the author has created a “Grisham-esque page-turner” by focusing on the battle between Kelo and a second “remarkably strong” woman. Claire Gaudiani, the “glamorous” college president who spearheaded the development effort, “might have qualified for the Nobel Prize for economic development” just for getting the project off the ground. But if convincing the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to build a research facility in shabby New London was a coup, pressing for the right to raze everything around it was a tragic mistake. When I finished this book, “I wanted to cry.”
For a story about such a significant court case, said Stephen Miller in January Magazine, the book skimps on legal analysis. Benedict’s “summary of the Supreme Court’s decision takes up barely half a chapter.” Benedict’s “almost novelistic” take instead offers readers “a modern morality tale,” said Melanie Kirkpatrick in The Wall Street Journal. He paints nothing in black and white. But we do learn that Kelo’s house has become a monument to citizen’s rights: It was disassembled and rebuilt elsewhere. Kelo, meanwhile, finally accepted a buyout. She has vowed never to return to the city she considered home.
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