- Surveying the Literary Landscapes of Terry Tempest Williams: New Critical Essays ed. by Katherine R. Chandler, Melissa A. Goldthwaite (review)
- Western American Literature
- University of Nebraska Press
- Volume 41, Number 1, Spring 2006
- pp. 75-76
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BO O K R E VIEW S 7 5 Surveying the Literary Landscapes of Terry Tempest Williams: New Critical Essays. Edited by Katherine R. Chandler and Melissa A. Goldthwaite. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2003. 265 pages, $19.95. Reviewed by David Messmer Rice University, Houston A s a central figure in the fields of ecocriticism, ecofeminism, and western studies, it is surprising that Terry Tempest Williams has not been the subject of an entire critical volume. Surveying the literary Landscapes of Terry Tempest Williams, though, attempts to address this shortcoming. In their introductory comments, Katherine Chandler and Melissa Goldthwaite claim that this col lection of essays “allude[s] to many of the themes and concerns taken up by others outside this volume” (xvii) and that it “is committed to reaching toward a more comprehensive understanding of [Williams’s] body of writings” (ix). On the first point, this collection is largely successful as it does cover most of the central questions sunounding Williams’s work since the publication of Refuge in 1991 cemented her place as a writer of importance. However, these essays, with some notable exceptions, do not always succeed in providing “a more comprehensive understanding” of Williams’s work as many of them rehash, rather than expand, pre-existing themes of critical inquiry. This is perhaps most evident in the book’s first section, “Ecocriticism.” Essays such as Elizabeth Dodd’s “Beyond the Blithe Air,” which contrasts Williams’s transcendentalist ideals to those of nineteenth-century writers (mainly Emerson and Thoreau) through the lens of nuclear technology, or Jeanette E. Riley and Maureen K. Schirack’s “Deconstructing the Language of Opposition,” which seeks to place Williams in an ecofeminist context through her deconstruction of body/mind, male/female, and nature/culture dichotomies, while thorough and carefully argued, do more to present long-standing issues in Williams’s work than they do to expand the scope of scholarship on Williams’s texts. The collection’s second section, “Craft and Rhetoric,” addresses Williams’s work from a formalist perspective and is probably the most uneven of the three sections. Goldthwaite’s own “Rhetoric + Feminism = Williams’s Poetic Means” is the highpoint of the section (and possibly of the entire volume) as it carefully and astutely maps out the rhetorical strategies that Williams employs as well as the relevance of those strategies to her political and artistic aims. Many of the other essays in this section, though, become overly concerned with outlining the formal dimensions of Williams’s work without the necessary breadth to demonstrate why these forms ultimately matter beyond their immediate pres ence in Williams’s writing. The final section of the book, “Faith, Ethics, Politics,” is probably the most interesting, and the essays that it contains make the most original and significant contributions to scholarship on Williams (with the exception of W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e S p r in g 2 0 0 6 Goldthwaite’s aforementioned essay). While each of the first two essays in this section (Richard Hunt’s “Integrating Science and Faith” and Katherine R. Chandler’s “Potsherds and Petroglyphs”) deal with a topic that is common to Williams studies—her relationship to Mormonism—they do so with a freshness that is missing from many of the book’s earlier essays. The rest of the essays in this section provide compelling new perspectives for thinking about Williams’s work, especially Tina Richardson’s “Corporeal Testimony,” which discusses Refuge not only as a piece of environmental writing but also as an (exceptional) example of breast cancer writing. Ultimately, Surveying the Literary Landscapes of Terry Tempest Williams, offers a fine introduction to scholarship on Williams—something that was sorely needed. The introduction includes a concise and thorough description of Williams’s career up to this point, and the volume contains a bibliography of both primary and secondary materials—both of which are a valuable resource. The essays, though not always terribly original, do provide an admirable sampling of the central questions that have motivated most Williams scholarship. Critics looking for cutting edge work on Williams might...