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We Asked the Ensemble... What's Your Favorite Book About or Set in Suburbia?
2010-2011, Volume 1
Austin Pendleton: I think maybe my favorite book about suburbia is still The Collected Stories of John Cheever. Those stories are printed in the order he wrote them and they start before World War II, so of course suburbia doesn't enter the picture for a whilein the book. But when it does, everything changes. America changes. Peoples' souls change. He captures it wittingly and harrowingly, as Lisa does in this play.
Laurie Metcalf: Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, is set in a Connecticut suburb. It was written in 1961 but seems as contemporary to me as Detroit does. Two unlikely couples bond having chosen suburbia. They enjoy the feeling of sophistication the suburb offers, while also being ableto blame it for their unhappiness. Win-win situation.
Kate Arrington: Well, it feels a little weird to say because this book has since taken on a greater significance for my family, but my favorite book about suburbia is definitely Revolutionary Road. (Footnote: it was the very first gift I ever gave to Michael [Shannon] long before there was any notion of a movie being made). I love it because it is such a flawless marriage of hilarious and tragic. And also because it documents the beginnings of suburbia in our country and the circumstances that led people to choose that lifestyle. Yates begins the novel with a John Keats quote: “Alas! when passion is both meek and wild!” I think of that sentiment often as I read Detroit. I actually think it's probably a pretty amazing quote to contextualize any artistic work set in suburbia.
Robert Breuler: I loved John Updike's Rabbit novels: Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux and others. A personal note: suburbia actually terrifies me. It's terra incognito or rather terra obscura, both really, to me, I bring my passport with me whenever I go out there. They drive like maniacs and live under a different code of ethics. But don't get me started on that one.
Kevin Anderson: Most of what I read is sort of anti-suburbia! One book that affected me when I was young was On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It's not exactly suburbia, but it's about characters that desperately want out of the conventional suburban life. This kind of writing has always appealed to me, being a child of the ’60s. I first read it totally by chance in an apartment I was subletting in NYC about 25 years ago. It was on the bookshelf there and I just picked it up and was so riveted I couldn't put it down. Growing up in north-suburban Gurnee, I related to these bohemian characters travelling the country exploring possibly a deeper, more spontaneous way of existing. Reading this book definitely inspired my love of travelling and avoiding the kind of settled, suburban lifestyle that most Americans seem to strive for.
Ian Barford: I come from a small Midwestern university town called Charleston, Illinois. Suburbia was not something I began to experience until college and even then only rarely. I still feel that my point of view on suburbia is general and fairly uninformed today. As far as books go, the book I would recommend is, weirdly, not American—but Australian. It's called Bliss, by Peter Carey, and it follows a fellow named Harry Joy—a man in advertising. After surviving a major heart attack, he discovers what is meaningful in his life.