cover image Shopping Mall

Shopping Mall

Matthew Newton. Bloomsbury, $14.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-5013-1482-7

Debut author Newton’s uneven entry in Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series, which are billed as “short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things,” provides some interesting insights into American culture, but mostly feels like a missed opportunity. Reading more like an overlong personal essay than a cohesive narrative, the book juxtaposes the history of the American shopping center, which Newton consistently makes interesting, against his own personal history, which he does not. Newton begins promisingly with a pilgrimage to the first indoor mall, Southdale Center in Edina, Minn., but quickly loses focus, indulging in stories of his teenage years that feel simultaneously too specific to be relatable and too generic to be resonant. The best passages are those about the actual idea of the mall, designed by figures such as the Viennese Victor Gruen as a new sort of civic space that could replace the lost town square in a post-WWII America reshaped by the rise of suburbia. Newton wraps up with evocative reflections on instances of violence in shopping malls and questions about a possible renewal for these spaces, the popularity of which has flagged since their heyday nearly 30 years ago. To put it into the vernacular, this book about the mall is at its best when it’s, like, totally about the mall. [em](Sept.) [/em]