Lost in Summerland: Essays

Barrett Swanson. Counterpoint, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-64-009418-5
Journalist Swanson investigates in his searching debut what he sees as America’s pervasive spiritual restlessness and alienation. In probing his central concern of how American communities cope with and find meaning in the wake of “national turmoil or geopolitical crisis,” Swanson mixes in personal stories about his own search for greater fulfillment. In “Consciousness Razing,” he attends Evryman, a three-day, all-male retreat in Ohio where men confront their toxic masculinity, and is disappointed by the reluctance among the attendees to seriously consider the structural forces “behind their fear and instability.” “The Soldier and the Soil” is a portrait of Steve Acheson, an anti-war veteran in Wisconsin who turned the “star-spangled gallantry promulgated in textbooks and Hollywood blockbusters” of veterans on its head. “Midwestern Gothic” shines a light on how pervasive conspiracy theories are in the industrial Midwest, in the wake of the mysterious death of the author’s best friend. Swanson often accompanies scenes of grief with moments of levity, as in “Okay Forever,” when he is unable to choose a gift at a hospital gift shop for his brother who has a traumatic brain injury, and ends up “sobbing in public with [his] face pressed against the stuffed pectoral of an oversized Foghorn Leghorn.” Full of measured skepticism, Swanson’s sharp interrogation of contemporary American life hits hard and true. (May)
Reviewed on : 01/28/2021
Release date: 05/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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