Swanson embarks on a personal quest for meaning amid the swirl of our post-truth climate. Traversing the country, he introduces us to Americans who are contending with the aftermath of political and economic collapse and who are striving to recover some semblance of meaning and purpose.
... impressive ... Swanson serves as a candid and empathetic narrator, guiding us with restrained cynicism and enticing prose as he interrogates the stories we tell ourselves to paper over truths we’d rather not face ... The main characters across the essays are all white and mostly men, and Swanson approaches his subjects inquisitively ... his observations are shrewd, so much so that the occasions when he doesn’t probe deep enough stand out as disappointing exceptions ... Throughout Lost in Summerland, Swanson addresses the racism simmering in the cultural fault lines he explores, but he doesn’t directly grapple with the idea of white male predominance and its erosion. In that vacuum sits a handful of missed opportunities ... Swanson finds more questions than answers in his quest, but he reaches a meaningful starting point for treating the ills of our age: elevating the virtue of love above the idea of conquest ... His essays reveal a thinker willing to wrestle with the realization that there is more beyond his sight.
... eloquent ... combines personal essays, journalism, and travelogues into a memorable collection ... personal recollections and reflections mix with on-site reportage, resulting in compelling accounts ... The book’s wide, sophisticated vocabulary makes even its most pedestrian statements and recounted dialogue enjoyable, though its complex wording leads to occasional obfuscation ... Uncommon synonyms are also employed; whether these come across as a matter of artistic license, or as imprecise choices, will depend on the preferences and predilections of the reader ... Swanson’s perspectives are empathetic and honest. The people and situations he describes are considered with the care of a sociologist, but also a sensitive heart. The essay collection Lost in Summerland forwards a smorgasbord of ideas, people, and places, all filtered through the perceptions of a skilled writer.
The book explores what happens when, having put the best words in the best order, the author looks around and doesn’t know where he is. He can’t go back; he can’t make it new—he can only start again. But that humid malaise travels with him, an ambivalent funk he can neither embrace nor wave goodbye to, believe in nor dismiss. He can only name it. Call it Summerland ... Again and again, from its epigraph to its acknowledgments, Swanson’s book tells a story of the end of myth. It’s self-reflexive that way, and unironic, since narrative remains what folks want ... One of the collection’s most powerful essays (and one that compelled me to look up 'lallating,' 'brume,' and 'vade mecum') focuses on a group of antiwar vets who find their own back-to-the-land movement in the soil of an organic farm ... The titular essay, Lost in Summerland, stands out both as the abysm of the book’s rich ambivalence and the moment where the author gives up, seemingly worn down by the effort of not knowing ... It’s a little inveigling...adrift on our hot ponds of ambivalence, to keep rhapsodizing the steam rising off the surface ... yet it’s not the healing promises of organic farming or collective action or even paid time off that stirs the author to belief, but his brother’s baffling clairvoyance.