cover image The Absent Hand: Reimagining Our American Landscape

The Absent Hand: Reimagining Our American Landscape

Suzannah Lessard. Counterpoint, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-64009-221-1

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.)