This is an exquisitely realized and wholly original memoir of growing up in blue-collar 1950s Lakewood, California, the quintessential post-World War II American suburb and the prototype for the countless tract developments that would follow. Lyrical, compassionate, and profound, Holy Land is an uncompromising, passionate statement of the hard-won values of American suburban places.
Waldie … is one of the writers responsible for developing a Southern California aesthetic in which what’s most vivid about the place is everything we might take for granted somewhere else.
Holy Land is of the ‘25 of the most significant books on Southern California architecture and urbanism’.
(H)old dear to Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, the most resonant book about suburban life. Author D. J. Waldie composed it in 316 fragments, at turns reportorial and soulful – children playing under the oleanders, dogs setting off a roundelay of barks, conviviality on the sidewalks – to chronicle the birth and life of Lakewood
If Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo had collaborated on a study of an archetypal American postwar suburb, the result would be D. J. Waldie’s visionary history and memoir of Lakewood, California.
I have read hundreds, perhaps a thousand or more, memoirs of California. Holy Land ranks with the best of them. With spare fact, Waldie has managed to present the rise of suburban Southern California in its full complexity.
Holy Land captivated me when it first came out. It still astonishes. It’s no easier to describe now than it was before it became a classic of American autobiography. Waldie’s range is staggering – from intimate, touchingly respectful revelations of family life and spiritual reality to a precise history of land development and public policy regarding water use (and don’t imagine this is the boring part). Waldie has written nothing less than the spiritual autobiography of the midcentury American suburban dream. It proves to be a subject worthy of tragedy and of his remarkable elegy.
With Holy Land, poet-historian D. J. Waldie has produced a brilliant period piece about suburban L.A., an American classic which shines with the poignancy, loss, and optimism produced by ages of discovery.
Infinitely moving and powerful, just dead-on right, and absolutely original.
When it comes to exploring how a place can shape a life, no book has excited me more than D. J. Waldie’s Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir. The land in question, laid out in a grid (“seen from above, the grid is beautiful and terrible”), is the postwar “not-quite-middle-class” suburb of Lakewood, outside Los Angeles, where Waldie has lived in the same house since he was born, and worked as a city official until he retired in 2010. Alternating between the intimate (his father’s death behind the bathroom door) and the impersonal (the history of tract development), in prose by turns poetic and matter-of-fact, the 316 numbered sections that make up this wonderfully odd and mysterious book build on one another to cumulative effect. I use the construction metaphor because the book’s structure echoes the process of building from scratch an entire suburb, house by house. “The critics of suburbs say that you and I live narrow lives,” Waldie writes. “I agree. My life is narrow. From one perspective or another, all our lives are narrow. Only when lives are placed side by side do they seem larger.” So, too, is Holy Land greater than the sum of its parts.
Welcome to the first church of the suburbs. Let Holy Land be your bible.
An astonishing book, unsentimental, baleful, yet oddly affecting. I have never read anything quite like it.
The aesthetic appeal of D. J. Waldie’s Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir may be attributed to the many surprises its hybrid form delivers. What sets off this little book from so many other narratives about the American post-war history of suburbanization is the complexity of its literary shape. … Holy Land presents a series of fragmented observations formally modelled upon the grid pattern that structures the author’s built environment. Roaming across this grid is a walking participant observer: the narrator, who decentres the Cartesian eye of the cartographer. This laconic narrator plays around in a metonymical manner with an endlessly extendable chain of links, disturbing all attempts at reducing and synthesizing his suburban narrative. In the end, however, neither the act of gridding the text nor the insertion of a walking perspective lend themselves to straightforward allegorical interpretations. We are left with an unpredictable stage for the circulation and mutual transformation of information and affect, which in the final analysis appears to be a textual enactment of the workings of desire