cover image The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs

The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs

Jason Diamond. Coffee House, $16.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-56689-582-8

In this insightful work of narrative nonfiction, journalist Diamond (Searching for John Hughes) draws from personal experience, history, and media to consider the significance of the suburbs in American culture. Revisiting the Chicago-area towns in which he grew up in the 1980s, Diamond finds signs of economic decline in the familiar big-box stores and movie theaters that are now shuttered. He considers suburban conformity through stories of new arrivals who received unfriendly receptions, and describes incidents in which violence upended the presumption of the suburbs as a safe haven, recounting a 1977 murder in Long Grove, Ill., where he once lived. Throughout, he engages with writers like John Cheever, who “shaped so many of our ideas of what the suburbs were like” in the post-WWII era, and Shirley Jackson, who “explained the suburban condition better than nearly any other writer before or after,” as well as suburban-set movies—he deems the villains of the Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street horror series as particularly suburban bogeymen. Though Diamond occasionally strays into repetition with his personal reflections—such as repeated observations that he now lives in New York City and views the suburbs as an outsider—his cultural criticism is consistently astute. This is a smart, enjoyable study that will be particularly appreciated by other suburban expats. (Aug.)