Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir

Waldie’s Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (1996 and 2005, W. W. Norton) is D. J. Waldie’s account of growing up in the 1950s in Lakewood, then California’s largest planned suburb. Lakewood was the first of its kind on the west coast and is regarded as a parallel to Levittown, New York, the original, post-World War II, tract-house development in America.

Waldie breaks the text into 316 sections, some no longer than a sentence or two. Some deal with the author’s experiences, both in first and third person narration. These memories concentrate on his Catholic upbringing and the deaths of his parents. The majority of the sections detail the historical, geographical, political, and cultural factors both preceding the development of Lakewood’s 17,000 homes and following Lakewood’s incorporation as a city in 1954. Waldie focuses particularly on the three developers who built Lakewood in the early 1950s, devoting long passages to the intricacies of the development process. Other passages consider how suburban places have been viewed by their critics, with particular reference to the aerial photographs of William A. Garnett. Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir ultimately becomes a memoir of both a person and a place.

Jade Chang, author of The Wangs vs. the World, said of Holy Land in 2016, “Waldie’s meditation on suburbia finds the beauty in wonky detail and weaves a wholly unconventional narrative. I’d put this book up against the best of Baudrillard and Banham.”