More than most writers, Barrett Swanson is a first-rate cultural anthropologist. Perceptive, amusing, searching, he scans and gazes past the variety of scrims the world has set out to cloud our vision. His brilliant essays bring so much back into focus, while also noting the American surrealism of the American dream. There is not a weak link in this collection. Every piece is a gem.” —Lorrie Moore
"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 . . . His essays reveal a thinker willing to wrestle with the realization that there is more beyond his sight." —Albert Samaha, The New York Times Book Review
"Each essay in this timely collection takes readers down some of the more obscure rabbit holes people find themselves in as they attempt to make sense of society . . . These are not stories to explain what is happening right now and why, but stories of the people who are struggling to understand the what and the why of this modern moment." —Jenni Herrick, Shepherd Express
“Swanson’s essays are big, embracing, singing works of literary art. You get the sense that he writes each piece as though it might be his last and best. His writing, especially the diction, manages to be genuinely earnest, often somber, while also being unarguably funny—a precision so consistent that his pen can often feel like a scalpel . . . A distinctly spiritual, deeply humane collection of essays.” —Geoff Martin, The New Quarterly
"[Swanson's] insights and inquiries offer something novel and fresh . . . Scrupulous and immersive, the individual pieces in Lost in Summerland coalesce to form a poignant snapshot of the myriad pathologies of contemporary culture, providing a unique and uncanny lens into our deranged zeitgeist." —25YL
"The 14 essays of Lost in Summerland range over the continental United States, but their travelogue is spiritual . . . Swanson’s book cuts deep with a shard of mirror, and I’m trying not to bleed." —Travis Diehl, The Los Angeles Review of Books
"The brilliance of these essays is their ability to illuminate the personal through the critical, the political, and the unflinching specifics of place while shining a light into that seemingly distant ideal—the universal." —Christopher Notarnicola, The Paris Review
"Monstrously enjoyable . . . It’s difficult to express Lost in Summerland’s excellence without using tired descriptors like 'urgent' and 'necessary,' but, alas, the book feels both urgent and necessary." —Brady Brickner-Wood, Ploughshares
"Lost in Summerland is a blend of empathetic reporting and incisive thinking that takes the reader on a guided tour of America’s wild, imaginative, and sometimes dangerous myths . . . In a book about the power and limitations of narrative, Swanson’s essays search out older, maybe kinder ways to say new things. Lost in Summerland reminds us that a good and well-told story can, sometimes quite literally, save a person’s life." —Suzannah Showler, Hazlitt
"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." ––Peter Dabbene, Foreword Reviews
"With this eloquent and insightful collection of 14 essays, Swanson proves that his is an essential voice in the critique of a simultaneously surreal and vulgar modern age." —Angela Lutz, Shelf Awareness (starred review)
"This wide-ranging work is part literary collection, part cultural examination; it should appeal to armchair travelers interested in learning about different worldviews and finding meaning in the everyday." —Library Journal
"Full of measured skepticism, Swanson’s sharp interrogation of contemporary American life hits hard and true." ––Publishers Weekly
"A probing essay collection that tackles relevant issues emerging in America’s current shaky political and social climate." ––Kirkus Reviews
"Swanson searches for sense and narrative in a world that is often senseless and even bleak . . . Swanson’s contemplative collection is relatable, timely, and thought-provoking." ––Booklist
“With potent lucidity and fierce intelligence, Barrett Swanson pierces the superficial arguments that make so much of our moment strange and alienating. The range of these essays is astonishing, but more electrifying still is the agility with which Swanson probes the deep mysteries of masculinity, ecological threat, capitalism, and race to reveal thrilling if terrifying connections. Barrett Swanson is a tremendous writer, and this collection provides one of the truest, most haunting portraits of our time I’ve ever read.” —Brandon Taylor, author of Real Life, finalist for the Booker Prize
In a collection of essays, Swanson (English, Univ. of Wisconsin—Whitewater) takes readers with him to places around the United States. Along his journey, he connects with vivid ideas and people and searches with sensitivity for meaning in life's vicissitudes. He explores the challenges of masculinity at a camp in Ohio; works alongside military veterans at a therapeutic rural organic farm co-op in Wisconsin; visits the elderly founder of the utopian Venus Project in southern Florida; considers climate change at a water park in Wisconsin; participates in a mock disaster drill in Texas; and attends a convention in Bethesda, MD, for fans of the TV show West Wing. Additional essays share Swanson's philosophical musings on significant experiences in his life, such as his experience with chronic depression, playing football, losing a friend who drowned, and accompanying his supposedly psychic brother to a gathering of spiritualists in Lily Dale, NY. Swanson ties these varied essays together with an overarching theme of looking for meaning in a chaotic world. VERDICT This wide-ranging work is part literary collection, part cultural examination; it should appeal to armchair travelers interested in learning about different worldviews and finding meaning in the everyday.—Caren Nichter, Univ. of Tennessee at Martin
A probing essay collection that tackles relevant issues emerging in America’s current shaky political and social climate.
In “Consciousness Razing,” Swanson recounts his experience at a “manhood-confirming” adventure retreat hosted by a men’s encounter group called Evryman. As the weekend’s activities triggered strong emotional reactions, the author questioned the intent of such movements. “The relevant question for me…is whether this torrent of emotion is a meaningful intervention into the debate about masculinity,” he writes, “whether Evryman is treating the symptom or the cause.” In his account of his time at a convention for fans of The West Wing, Swanson reflects on the renewed interest in the series as a signal of a nostalgic yearning for its idealistic portrayal of governance. “Whereas Obama followed the rules of Aristotelian drama and thus resembled a president from Aaron Sorkin’s imagination,” writes the author, “Trump obeyed the anti-narratives of reality television, where what matters most is not coherence or logical progression, but chaos and titillation.” The title essay follows Swanson’s visit to a psychic convention in upstate New York, a journey prompted by the experiences of his brother, who had suffered a brain injury that caused him to experience psychic visions. This is one of the more compelling and moving pieces, as the author delves informatively into the dynamics of the sibling relationship and reflects on his struggles with depression. With the exception of a couple pieces that miss the mark in their humorous aim—e.g., visiting the massive Noah’s Ark waterpark in Wisconsin—these are mostly tuned-in, absorbing essays. However, the author sometimes relies too heavily on affected wordplay that doesn’t always match the subject matter. In comparison to the crisp prose of a few contemporaries—Jia Tolentino and Zadie Smith come to mind—Swanson’s overly mannered style can be distracting. If he can rein in the tendency to overwrite, this could be the start of a fruitful career.
Intelligent, well-informed essays from a promising if occasionally pedantic writer.