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Posts Tagged ‘suburbs’

I Heart Suburbia

March 21, 2014 | by

The light verse of Phyllis McGinley, born on this day in 1905.

beer-belongs-tennis-pool

Friends Over for Tennis, Douglas Crockwell, 1949

In 1960, W. D. Snodgrass won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. “The following year,” he says in his Art of Poetry interview, “it was given to Phyllis McGinley, which was horrifying; she used to write little silly verses for The Saturday Evening Post.”

McGinley was on the cover of Time; her work appeared in the Atlantic and The New Yorker. And yet this scathing, passing reference is the only mention she receives in our entire archive. How can we have passed over such a popular and laureled poet?

Chalk it up to, let’s say, a difference in sensibility. As Ginia Bellafante put it a few years ago in an excellent essay for the Times, McGinley wrote “reverentially of lush lawns and country-club Sundays … [she] is almost entirely forgotten today, and while her anonymity is attributable in part to the disappearance of light verse, it seems equally a function of our refusal to believe that anyone living on the manicured fringes of a major American city in the middle of the 20th century might have been genuinely pleased to be there.” Read More »

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Open Ye Gates! Swing Wide Ye Portals! Part 2

February 16, 2014 | by

This is the second in a two-part series on St. Louis and the 1904 World’s Fair. Read part 1 here.

arch shadow

Photo: Edward McPherson

The Palace of Agriculture is a blinding colossus in the sun. The man next to me reads from a booklet: twenty acres large, covered with 147,250 panes of glass. I have timed my visit—in one minute a giant clock made of 13,000 flowers will strike the noon hour. I am finished with the exhibits. I have seen the Missouri corn palace, the 4,700-pound cheese; I have laughed at Minnesota’s contribution, “The Discovery of St. Anthony Falls by Father Hennepin” shaped out of one thousand pounds of butter. Now a hiss of compressed air throws the 2,500-pound minute hand the final five feet, where it points to the giant numeral 12. An hourglass flips, doors open to reveal the gears of the clock—the triumph of industrial time—and a massive bell tolls the death of more agrarian rhythms.

Pyramids of fruit on a sea of china plates—the entire Palace of Horticulture smells like apples. Virginia has created a statewide shortage by sending too many to the Fair. I dip my fingers into the fountain, which gushes ice water. Farmers shake their heads at the monstrosities on display: a pineapple the size of a turkey and a mysterious dimpled fruit, said to be the unholy cross between a strawberry and a raspberry.

 * * *

The company is a major employer in this city. One cannot miss its print and radio campaign: “We grow ideas here.” “We work together here.” “We dream here.” “We’re proud to be St. Louis Grown.” Its website offers videos of employees working in food banks, cleaning up after tornados, visiting Forest Park, and standing in front of the Arch. Articles rate the town’s best burger joints, as judged by company workers. The company is a major donor to local charities and institutions, including the university in which I teach. In 2013, the company’s net sales were $14.8 billion, up ten percent. Its chief technology officer won the 2013 World Food Prize. The company has 21,183 employees in 404 facilities in sixty-six countries—but its headquarters are here, where, over the years, the much-maligned Monsanto Company has worked to produce saccharin, PCBs, polystyrene, DDT, Agent Orange, nuclear weapons, dioxin, RoundUp, bovine growth hormone, and genetically modified seeds. Read More »

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Anthony Giardina on ‘Norumbega Park’

February 14, 2012 | by

In five novels and a collection of short stories, Anthony Giardina has written about the conflicts at the intersection of social class, family, and sexuality. Recent History explores the anxieties of a young man whose parents get divorced when his father announces he’s gay; in White Guys, a horrific murder in Boston forces old friends to consider their assumptions about where they belong in the social hierarchy. His new novel, Norumbega Park, traces the lives of the four members of an Italian-American family in Massachusetts over forty years. Richie, the patriarch, is seized by an urge to purchase a traditional house in the titular town, setting in motion a new life for his family. His son Jack breezes through high school on his charm, then runs into trouble when he moves to New York instead of going to college. Joannie, Jack’s sister, joins a convent, and her mother, Stella, struggles with that choice, as well as with her own encroaching mortality. I spoke with Giardina by e-mail about the work and experience that went into creating the new book.

Your fiction has been credited with “charting the move from the working class to the gilded suburbs.” What draws you to this story?

I was a witness, as a young boy, to my father’s desire to move us up, in our case from a working-class neighborhood to a brand-new neighborhood of houses that men built for themselves—my father and his cronies, Italian-American working-class guys who had made some money. They literally blasted into this hill in Waltham, Massachusetts, this area that had just been woods, and they built these houses that I can see now were just basic split-level structures but that seemed to me kind of magical. It wasn’t just houses these guys were building, it was a whole neighborhood they considered “exclusive.” It made them all act differently. They gave parties for themselves—they dressed up, the women wore gowns. And it was maybe the first complex social observation I was able to make, to watch a group of men and women consciously attempt to reinvent themselves.

Later, of course, I was able to see that this was a huge theme in American fiction, but before I knew it as literature, I had seen it in its raw form, and it left me with a vivid sense that this is how class works in America—that assumption of a new identity based on where you live, and how well you’ve done.

I’ve never wanted to do that for myself. I live in a modest house, and I like to assume a suburban identity where I’m just one of the neighborhood guys. Read More »

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