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B o o k R e v ie w s Coast of Dreams: California on the Edge, 1990-2003. By Kevin Starr. New York: Knopf, 2004. 765 pages, $35.00. Reviewed by Charles L. Crow Rockville, Maryland The seventh volume in the California Dream series comes soon after Embattled Dreams (2002), Kevin Starr’s account of the transforming years of the Second World War and the 1950s. The new book, issued by a different publisher, con­ tains some surprises. It is not the expected study of the 1960s and 1970s. Instead, Starr leaps ahead to the 1990s and the first years of the new millennium, up to, essentially, the present. Surprising, also, is the confessional tone of the intro­ duction, in which Starr, unsettled by riots, crime, and the natural and financial disasters of recent years, admits to a crisis of faith. Perhaps his whole series, his life’s work, has been a mistake. Perhaps California is over. How easy it would be to join the California bashers, to become (though he does not quite say it) like Mike Davis, his long-time gadfly adversary, the anti-Starr. Yet Starr summons his resolution, determines to retain his balance, and portrays in these years all that is still heartening about California, as well as the truly appalling. Writing in clipped, journalistic “notes from the field,” saying his subject is too recent for real history, Starr ranges up and down the state, telling the story Eileen Doktorski. TORN PAGES. 2004- Cast bronze. 7" x 6" x 3". Courtesy of the artist. 3 5 4 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e F a l l 2 0 0 5 of this era (xii). A recession in the early nineties, the result of cuts in defense spending, gave way to a broad recovery and budget surpluses; but hard times returned again with the looting of California’s power system and treasury by “the boys from Texas.” A new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, faces many of the same problems encountered earlier by Pete Wilson and Gray Davis. Through the nineties, the state wrestled with diminished school funding (the legacy of the infamous Proposition 13) and with uncontrolled immigration that placed additional stress on its educational system. The state was further tested by eternal environmental issues—earthquake, fire, and drought—only to be matched by social trauma—riots in Los Angeles, a scandal in the LAPD, and rising gang violence everywhere. Yet these years also saw a growth in new businesses, much of it resulting from the energy of its new immigrants, which helped to replace the losses in defense jobs. New models emerged for housing and public space, cities were revitalized, and splendid works of architecture appeared. As a new governor takes office, California may have become “a reality in search of a lost myth that had been once believed in, had been lost, but never fully repudiated” (629). However, California remains the model for the nation’s future, an “ecumenopolis,” a world commonwealth. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in California’s recent past or who is concerned for its future. Starr’s usual skill in creating a synthesis ofvast amounts ofdata, in creating a focus both sharp and deep, is much evident here. Though his vision may have turned darker, one is reminded of Melville’s Catskill eagle of the soul: though it flies into the blackest gorges, it soars. Not Just Any Land: A Personal and Literary Journey into the American Qrasslands. By John Price. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. 118 pages, $20.00. Reviewed by Matthew J. C. Celia University of Connecticut, Storrs Price’s aim for this book—a thoughtfully-crafted mixture of memoir, literary analysis, and interviews with four prominent midwestem writers—is to “bear witness to the beginning of one writer’s commitment to place” (ix). His focus, in other words, is not necessarily on what it means to be committed to a place but on the process of awakening to and striving toward that commitment. His own awakening, as he describes it in the first chapter, occurs when...


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pp. 353-354
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