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B o o k R e v ie w s Landscapes of the New West: Qender and Qeography in Contemporary Women’s Writing. By Krista Comer. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. 302 pages, $45.00/$ 19.95. Reviewed by Susan Kollin Montana State University, Bozeman In recent years, the field of western American literary studies has under­ gone a dramatic shake-up in its theoretical approaches in a way that promises to redirect scholarship for some time to come. While they often rely on and extend the work of the New Western Historians, who, beginning in the 1980s brought renewed attention to the region, these literary critics also challenge the approaches of their counterparts in history. Eschewing the naive realism and often atheoretical paradigms upon which the New Western History has developed, many western literary critics are instead aligning themselves with cultural studies and postmodern theory.1Krista Comer’s Landscapes of the New West contributes to this critical turn, bringing together feminist theory, cultural geography, postmodern criticism, and environmental studies in an analysis of contemporary western women writers. Addressing a diverse group of authors including Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, Wanda Coleman, Barbara Kingsolver, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, Mary Clearman Blew, Sandra Cisneros, and Pam Houston, Comer traces the emergence of a new female regionalism, a development that arises in the 1970s and that is pro­ foundly shaped by the Civil Rights movement and second-wave feminism. In describing this group of writers as constituting an alternative tradition, how­ ever, Comer is cautious about erasing differences. Rather than adhering to an outmoded notion of “sisterhood is global” or even “regional,” she foregrounds the ways these writers often differ from each other politically and takes pains to show that they frequently do not share similar regional, gendered, or even national sensibilities. According to Comer, these women writers tend to be overlooked in regional scholarship because they produce nanatives that are not convention­ ally deemed “western.” Moving outside a tradition that privileges realism, rural settings, and nature-identified protagonists, the new female regionalists often favor postmodern narrative conventions and more urban settings. They like­ wise seek to tell stories that complicate notions of identity, knowledge, and truth. Given that the western literary establishment has yet to come to terms with the implications of modernism— let alone postmodernism—is it any wonder that these women writers have not received their critical due? In the dominant geographical imagination of the West, modernism represents the eastern United States and figures as a negative sign for feminized, urbanized BO O K REVIEW S 89 culture. Attuned to an antimodern sensibility which they understand as a more “authentic” mode of analysis, many western American critics likewise remain suspicious of contemporary critical approaches in a way that further distances western literary criticism from what is happening elsewhere in literary studies. Comer argues that this narrowing of the definition of western writing and western criticism has functioned historically to exclude non-white, non-male perspectives from the field. As she explains, “There exists a racialized and gen­ dered pattern . . . as to who rejects postmodern narrative strategies and who indeed needs those strategies in order to tell their own versions of western stories” (4). Her study thus argues for a broader theoretical approach that can address the diversity of writers who are producing regional nanatives, stories whose settings may not be part of the West’s “canonical landscapes” (62). Comer’s task involves overturning the race and gender biases in the field, dismantling its dominant geographical and critical dispositions along the way. One of the highlights of the book involves her analysis of Wanda Cole­ man, the Los Angeles-based black poet and journalist whose writings tend to be overlooked on a variety of fronts. As a black writer in California, Coleman is often underappreciated by African American scholars who tend to be less critically attuned to West Coast authors than to eastern or southern writers. As a black urban female writer, Coleman is likewise marginalized in regional stud­ ies for not writing about topics that appear to be “truly, deeply western” (62). As Comer explains, western regionalists traditionally favor “relatively unpeo­ pled expanses of prairies...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 88-92
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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