Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Idea of My Home

One of the downsides of living in your basic boring suburb is that you can never fully relate to the settings and scenes in literature. Sometimes it's all too only present in the imagination, when sometimes you would like to be shown something you know well in different lighting.

I have only had the thrill of a writer dipping their hot pen into my memory of place twice: first, an offhand reference in John Steinbeck's East of Eden, where the character Lee tells an uncharacteristic story of getting drunk and waking up in the belltower of The First United Methodist Church in San Leandro - where I once attended (I remember feverishly asking my wife, "They have a belltower?"); and second, in Curtis White's The Idea of Home, which takes place (mostly) in my burg (actually, it's more of a step-burg, since living here was a thrust of circumstance), of San Lorenzo.

Above and beyond ample references to local events, the names of known streets, and the inclusion of local figures (especially David K. Bohannon - the developer who supposedly resembles Walt Disney, though the portrait Mr. White refers to in the novel no longer adorns his namesake middle school for me to confirm; and the Mervyns of department store fame), this novel affirmed for me how history festers under the thin topsoil of time, so that discovering what faction of your identity is related to the places you have lived requires not only defining an area's zeitgeist or hidden curriculum, but discovering and evaluating great bloody stains across the landscape, even here in a relatively quiet post-war suburb. While I don't agree that one can be judged by the history of your town/state/nation, I can't ignore the influence of latent angst from others that have gone by the label of San Lorenzians, Californiansm, Americans.

That, and The Idea of Home is one of those rare examples of consistently readable experimentation. Check out this novel and others by Curtis White recently re-released by the venerable Dalkey Archive Press (

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