Wilhite contends that a general indebtedness to Cold War cultural critique has kept literary scholars from reading the suburbs and suburban fiction for what they truly are: the endgame and final outpost of US regionalism. Drawing on discussions of regional writing and cultural geography, Wilhite argues that we should read suburban narratives for the ways they update and revise long-standing regionalist approaches to local and global concerns: the charged insularity of the domestic sphere, the geographic containment of racial difference, the repressive construction of a common national identity, and the imperial reach of nation. As a mode of geopolitical analysis, regionalism clarifies the fraught relationship between isolationism and imperialism that has shaped US residential geography. When read as form of regional writing, suburban fiction exposes our homes and neighborhoods as national and transnational “sites of contestation.” To develop this line of thinking, Wilhite offers Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2001) and Chang-rae Lee’s Aloft (2004) as case studies for his broader claims about region and the spatial effects of residential sprawl and suburban domesticity. Franzen and Lee both locate the political subject within the competing ideologies of privatism and globalization, but they produce radically different responses to the suburb as a symptomatic fact of twenty-first-century life in the United States. Taken together, these novels offer divergent paths for understanding the suburbs as a uniquely problematic and potentially transformative cultural and geographic region.
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Keith Wilhite; Contested Terrain: The Suburbs as Region. American Literature 1 September 2012; 84 (3): 617–644. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-1664737
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