From Publishers Weekly
The virtues of being open to new and transformative experiences are rhapsodized but not really illuminated in this discursive and somewhat gauzy set of linked essays. Cultural historian Solnit, an NBCC award winner for River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West
, allows the subject of getting lost to lead her where it will, from early American captivity narratives to the avant-garde artist Yves Klein. She interlaces personal and familial histories of disorientation and reinvention, writing of her Russian Jewish forebears' arrival in the New World, her experiences driving around the American west and listening to country music, and her youthful immersion in the punk rock demimonde. Unfortunately, the conceit of embracing the unknown is not enough to impart thematic unity to these essays; one piece ties together the author's love affair with a reclusive man, desert fauna, Hitchcock's Vertigo
and the blind seer Tiresias in ways that will indeed leave readers feeling lost. Solnit's writing is as abstract and intangible as her subject, veering between oceanic lyricism ("Blue is the color of longing for the distance you never arrive in") and pensées
about the limitations of human understanding ("Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map's information is what's left out, the unmapped and unmappable") that seem profound but are actually banal once you think about them.
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This meditation on the pleasures and terrors of getting lost is-as befits its subject-less a coherent argument than a series of peregrinations, leading the reader to unexpected vistas. The word "lost," Solnit informs us, derives from the Old Norse for disbanding an army, and she extrapolates from this the idea of striking "a truce with the wide world." It's the wideness of the world that entices: a map of this deceptively slender volume would include hermit crabs, who live in scavenged shells; marauding conquistadors; an immigrant grandmother committed to an asylum; white frontier children kidnapped by Indians; and Hitchcock's "Vertigo." Solnit imagines a long-distance runner accumulating moments when neither foot is on the ground, "tiny fragments of levitation," and argues, by analogy, that in relinquishing certainty we approach, if only fleetingly, the divine.
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