cover image Big Mall: Shopping for Meaning

Big Mall: Shopping for Meaning

Kate Black. Coach House, $18.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-55245-472-5

Canadian essayist Black’s searching if meandering debut probes her ambivalence about shopping malls. Black recounts frequenting Alberta’s West Edmonton Mall, North America’s largest, as a teenager, drawn to stores that offered opportunities for reinventing herself through style choices. Nowadays, she reports feeling uneasy about how malls have privatized the public square, becoming manifestations of neoliberalism in which one must participate in a market to justify one’s presence. Nonetheless, she concedes that malls can serve important community functions, citing as an example Scarborough, Ontario’s Morningside Mall, which, before it closed in 2007, hosted a library branch and legal aid clinic. Delving into the history of indoor malls, Black explains the first­—the Southdale Center in Edina, Minn.­­—was built in 1958 by Victor Gruen, a Jewish architect who’d fled Vienna 20 years earlier for Los Angeles, where he was dismayed by the suburban sprawl of stores and envisioned bringing them under one roof. Black’s ambition sometimes exceeds her grasp and leads her to make sweeping assertions she hasn’t marshaled the evidence to support, as when she suggests that malls “isolate our realities from... the essential truth” that “we are so implicated by one another” without making clear why that is. Still, it’s a keen appraisal of malls’ social import. (Feb.)