In ten interconnected essays, Harlan examines cultural histories that include Bedouin nomadic traditions and modern life in wheeled mobile homes, the psychology of motels and suburban tract housing, and the lived meanings within the built landscapes of Manhattan, Stonehenge, and the Winchester Mystery House. More personally, she traces the family histories that drove her parents to seek so many new horizons—and how those places shaped her upbringing.
Harlan and her family moved 17 times while she was a child, following her father’s work as an engineer across four continents. Impermanence defined her early life, and is a resonant ache in this linked-essay memoir. Her meditations on the meaning of places, houses and homes are rooted in her nomadic experience, if nomadism can be said to root anything ... Perhaps, these essays suggest, home is after all the place that is ours—whoever and wherever we find ourselves to be.
Each part of the book feels slightly different. For example, she lived in England in 1977 and offers a very cool history of aspects of British culture and also mentions the IRA during that period. She makes great references to popular culture, such as the Sex Pistols, which I really appreciated. Harlan also explores her father’s battle with alcoholism, which is a beautifully done section. I also felt empathy for her desire to ensure that her son has roots in a physical space, even though that is foreign to her. While I enjoyed aspects of the collection, I felt it was uneven. Sometimes the story telling and the history or science exposition didn’t match well. However, it is a worthwhile endeavor that many readers will enjoy.
The essays tell Harlan’s personal stories, but they are also well-researched. She examines the cultural histories of places, from Bedouin nomadic traditions to modern life in mobile homes ... The prose in Harlan’s essays is remarkably unsentimental as she guides us through the natural and built landscapes of her formative years. The family history, for all of its chapters about roaming, still speaks to a kind of stability and maintains a definite poignancy.