A journalist and author drives his truck around the East visiting utopian communities—past and present—and concludes we need to think more like those folks.
Currently a writer-in-residence at the University of Kentucky, Reece (An American Gospel: On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God, 2009, etc.) is, as he acknowledges, a restless soul who loves hopping in his truck and going where his considerable curiosity dictates. After a brief introduction to utopian thinking, the author chronicles his visit to Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, a former Shaker community. In this chapter, we see the pattern that characterizes the others: an intermingling of history with assessments of current status, riffs on why the community eventually failed, and thoughts on what we could learn from the utopians; later, he adds comparisons—e.g., how does community F differ from or resemble communities A-E? Some names serving as touchstones pop up continually: historian Walter Benjamin, poet Wendell Berry. Also popping up are some usage issues: a couple of instances of “revert back” and “sojourn” misused as a synonym for “journey.” Reece is a most gracious guest during visits: respectful, inquisitive, and appreciative of the current community of Acorn (in Virginia), where nudity thrives. The places he profiles include the expected (New Harmony, Indiana; Oneida, New York) and some generally unfamiliar areas: Monk’s Pond, in Kentucky; Utopia, Ohio—precious little remains; Utopia Parkway in Queens, New York). Throughout, Reece provides swift surveys of the lives of various principals: Thoreau at Walden Pond, Josiah Warren on Long Island, and Oneida’s John Humphrey Noyes, who personally delivered the sexual initiation of girls in his community. Later, Noyes fled to Canada, pursued by a statutory rape charge, and Reece ends by following Noyes’ route to Niagara Falls and ruminating about what he sees as our current ruinous economic and social policies.
Compelling narratives with a personal voice, with some utopian political bite.