SPIRIT OF PLACE: The Making of an American Literary Landscape by Frederick Turner

SPIRIT OF PLACE: The Making of an American Literary Landscape

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A not very original yet occasionally interesting study of the uses of locale made by American writers. Turner reviews nine prominent literary works, including Thoreau's Walden, Steinbeck's East of Eden, and Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony; discusses how their setting influenced their writing; and ends with his own visit to each location. Since no one, however, can match the evocative power of, for example, a Faulkner addressing his own ""spirit of place""--Oxford, Mississippi--these pilgrimages by Turner are mainly exercises in failed archeology. The author's thesis--how American artists learned to accept and work with both the blessings and obstacles of their local environment--is now a matter of literary history, and has been examined with greater care by, among others, Larzer Ziff in his Literary Democracy (1981). Turner is more successful when the locale has not already become a landscape in the reader's own imagination. Discussing Sandoz's Old Jules (1935), or Silko's Ceremony (1977), two novels of comparative unfamiliarity, his knowledge of the upper Nebraska panhandle or of the Pueblo reservation in New Mexico very helpfully introduces these regions to the reader. Also of interest is an interview with Silko, an Indian regionalist, who argues that the American spirit of place has been contaminated by genocide and war: ""A nation built on stolen land can't ultimately be a just nation. . ."" Despite a lack of originality here, on balance Turner's fascination for many of the literary shrines he describes, especially Willa Cather's craggy Southwest, gives to his writing a sense of devotion and love for the land that the reader can admire and feel.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1990
Publisher: Sierra Club--dist. by Random House