GUEST BLOG / By Anonymous--The Eric Peterson Home and Museum touts itself as one of the top destination tourist attractions in Southern California. With its high arched windows, terra-cotta colonnades, whitewashed walls, and red tile roof, the two-story manor, which sits on a hill above the San Pasqual Valley, in northern San Diego County, serves as a textbook example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.
Eric Peterson, the novelist, still lives and writes here, having called it home for nearly fifteen years. Inspired by the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, and by the Steinbeck House Restaurant and Museum in Salinas, CA, Peterson and his wife, Teresa, opened their home to the public in 2018.
“The artist’s house as museum solves the predicament of the unknown writer struggling to make ends meet on his book royalties alone,” Peterson explains in a video that loops in the sunny high-ceilinged foyer, which doubles as the museum’s reception area. “Hemingway and Steinbeck both made a tactical error in opening their museums posthumously. I say, Why wait till you’re dead?”
We hiked up a steep driveway to the house, where yet again we were separated from our money: adult admission was $13; children under 18 were $9. Children under 12, the sign said, “were not welcome at any price.”
Our visit began with a walk around the house. Expecting to see exquisite gardens, exotic trees, and sweeping views of the valley, we found instead old lawnmowers, chipped concrete fountains, and sprinkler lines leaking water like blood. The crabgrass abounded with fresh gopher mounds. The swimming pool was green from neglect.
|HIP BUSTER. Jagged walkways threatened to hobble us Jagged, irregular walkways threatened to twist our ankles, rendering us hobbled and gimpy for the guided tour.|
At 6’3” and weighing nearly 230 pounds, our tour guide could have been the author himself but for his long beard and black sunglasses, which our guide refused to take off. (Peterson is known to be clean shaven.) As luck would have it, we’d missed the actual writer by minutes. He was away either to get paper or ink toner for his printer—we never quite got the story straight.
Peterson’s lack of productivity—he’s written only two novels in ten years—is a recognized testament to his lethargy behind the keyboard. But is there more to the story?
We think so. It’s one of the reasons we visited the house.
We posed the question to our tour guide. He bristled, and the color rose in his cheeks. He turned on his heels and led us to the south end of the house.
Peterson’s library, a big room, shocked us nearly speechless. We hadn’t seen so many mindless, lowbrow books all in one place since our tour of the Reagan Ranch. There were autobiographies of George Stephanopoulos, Ari Fleischer, and Lee Iacocca. The novels ranged from Erich Segal’s “Love Story” to a Nicholas Sparks literary meltdown too gruesome to name. The only thing missing to make this a provincial trifecta for dolts was a condensed books anthology from Reader’s Digest.
“It’s filler,” our guide snapped. “Upstairs in the study—that’s where you’ll find his true intellectual sustenance.”
And boy did we ever. The bookshelves in Peterson’s upstairs study were bursting with literary classics like Dan Jenkins’s “Semi-Tough,” Larry McMurtry’s “Texasville,” Tom Wolfe’s “A Man in Full,” and, of course, David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King.”
On one of these same bookshelves, in a white box, we found the original manuscript for “The Dining Car.” In the hands of an irrational, hard-nosed editor, its 110,000 words would be cut to fewer than 80,000.
Peterson writes about—and purports to be—a fastidious gourmet, but we’re certain he’s no regular of the museum’s on-site café, located in the house’s two-car garage, which smells of gasoline and mothballs. The prepared food on display inside the curved glass refrigerated display case looked appallingly inedible. Crockpot beans, a raspberry-Jello salad, a chicken and rice casserole, a tuna and noodles potluck casserole—it all seemed to have come directly from your grandmother’s funeral reception.
Peterson’s museum charges $14 for all you can load onto a single paper plate—the honor system. We took two Cuban sandwiches and put our money in a jar.
We ate sitting at a card table in the garage. A creepy Donald Trump piñata, said to be a gift from Eric Peterson’s brother, Chris, who was severely inebriated at the time of the purchase, looked over our shoulders as we ate.With his lame food, hyperbolic marketing prose, exorbitant prices, and jaw-dropping dearth of engaging exhibits, it’s easy to conclude that Peterson, in turning his home into a museum, has shown a palpable disdain for the readers who are his biggest fans—as if it’s their fault he can’t sell enough books to make a living.
Yes, bookstores are declining and readers today are distracted by competing forms of entertainment, like social media and Netflix. But we say if he can’t cut it as a real writer, maybe it’s time for Mr. Peterson to hang it up and find a new line of work.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. No reservations are required. All major credit cards accepted.ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eric Peterson's debut novel, Life as a Sandwich, was a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards. His most recent book, The Dining Car, won the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Popular Fiction, the San Diego Book Award Gold Medal for Best Published Contemporary Fiction, and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Silver Medal for Literary Fiction. The story follows a former college football star who signs on as bartender and personal valet to a legendary food writer and social critic who travels the country by private railroad car.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER: When not writing political hit pieces for the East Coast establishment press and authoring controversial insider books about the Trump Administration, Anonymous also visits known and obscure media museums from coast to coast.