and Other Domestic Travels
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A collection of essays that combine elements of cultural observation and memoir without fully realizing either. Travel writer Hiestand begins by describing a youthful journey—the northward migration of four art-school girlfriends from the South, resplendent in their innocence and their turquoise blue Chevrolet Bel-Air. It’s a promising opening gambit, except that the promise goes unfulfilled: Within a few pages, these women are forgotten, their names dropped like so much spare change. Rather than describing their lives and motivations, Hiestand leaves them undifferentiated and moves on. It’s one of the most frustrating patterns in this book. Hiestand has a talent for offering up compelling personal anecdotes, but they never deepen into narratives; instead they merely adorn her intellectually facile essays (on car culture, race, religion, the idea of home, etc). Every chapter in it pulls away from every other, and Hiestand’s brief flashes of graceful narrative are too often subsumed by lumpen, trite generalizations: —Even for those of us with just the garden-variety amount of displacement and assimilation, identity is a shifting thing these days,— she offers. If only she—d stayed with the promise of her past: The upside-down girl of the book’s title, for instance, was a stripper Hiestand met as a young woman newly arrived in Winthrop, Mass. Angela was already living there, and famous for her ability to unlace her clothes while standing on her head at the local Kit Kat Club. Unfortunately, Hiestand does not share Angela’s talent for revealing herself in gravity-defying situations, nor does she even deign to elaborate on Angela’s character or her potential as metaphor. Her reticence, her unwillingness to reveal herself in spite of the genre she has chosen, leaves leaves this smartly titled work curiously dull.

Pub Date: July 27th, 1998
ISBN: 0-8070-7128-5
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998