Booklist Reviews 2019 March #1
This genre-blurring work of criticism—part history, part travel diary, part personal narrative—explores the contradictions of the American landscape. In episodic chapters, Lessard probes a medley of places: the mountain villages of upstate New York; Brooklyn housing projects; the sprawl and megamall of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania; and plantations in Natchez, Mississippi. What do they tell us? Little about the American landscape is what it seems. Lessard revels in the ambiguities, questioning her own assumptions and challenging the reader's preconceptions. One of her major themes is the connection between the local and the global—how vernacular landscapes are encroached upon, resist, and relate to the homogenizing forces of global capitalism. As Lessard alternates between narrative and analysis, what begins as a pastiche of vignettes builds into an entrancing reconsideration of America's history, from the spaces of the antebellum South through the landscapes of the Cold War and beyond. Some readers will raise an eyebrow at the occasional sweeping assertion and purple flourish. But this nonetheless remains a stellar work of landscape criticism, a rapturous meditation on the revelatory power of place. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2019 March #1
Lessard (The Architect of Desire) crafts an attentive book that explores how we view and understand our landscape, with a focus on how Americans give meaning and value to their environments. The work is divided into three sections, with the first two dedicated to rural and city landscapes and the third part dealing with businesses and governments that have sought to impose their agendas onto the modern landscape. Much of this follows the author's initial ruminations upon the meaning of beauty. Is it a manicured countryside, an overpopulated suburb, a glass-sheathed skyscraper? Intriguing examples explore how landscapes are viewed by different groups of people. For instance, pastoralism, or the practice of herding livestock, overlooks that these fields were, in many cases, wrought and maintained by slaves. Yet no landscape, argues the author, is without a type of majesty and depth. VERDICT Lessard's journey through the American landscape provides an insightful glimpse into how the changing of landscape aesthetics reflects concurrent changes in society. For readers interested in a unique blend of geography, sociology, and travel.—Brian Renvall, Mesalands Community Coll., Tucumcari, NM
Copyright 2019 Library Journal.
PW Reviews 2018 December #1
In an elegant series of essays, New Yorker contributor Lessard (The Architect of Desire) explores the American landscape as a metaphor for recent shifts in the national consciousness. She investigates places near and dear, like the idyllic town of Rensselaerville in the Hudson River Valley where she vacations, and the Brooklyn neighborhood where she lived in the 1990s, as well as those that are unknown to her, like the King of Prussia, Pa., shopping mall. She considers preserved Civil War battlefields and Southern plantations that have been whitewashed of any mention of slavery lest visitors feel the slightest discomfort, and uses the Columbia University campus to gauge the widening conservative-liberal divide. Her musings are richly poetic, even when describing prosaic features of the urban landscape, such as a "garbage truck grinding in a cold rain... a groan from the gut of creation." Describing how modern development can steadily blight a landscape, she encapsulates this process astutely as an "eerie burglary of the world as we have known it." Throughout, Lessard offers an extraordinary way of examining and understanding the aesthetics of different environments, whether urban, suburban, or bucolic, which will inspire readers to look with new curiosity at the places around them. (Mar.)
Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.