By People Staff
Updated August 12, 1996 12:00 PM

by D.J. Waldie

The nation turned its collective eyes to Lakewood, Calif., almost 50 years ago when LIFE published a photograph of one of its streets clogged with moving vans unloading furniture. For a while, 35 people a day headed for this new community, making it one of the fastest growing developments in postwar America. Waldie’s parents were among the residents, and Holy Land is his bittersweet paean to his hometown. Part memoir, part history, Holy Land is a poetic, hypnotically appealing collection of essays, ranging from a sentence to a page, from past to present, showing how Lakewood—and the American Dream—have changed. Waldie’s portraits are compassionate and critical, from eccentric citizens to Jewish developers restricted from living in the town by local, and illegal, deed covenants. Waldie also contrasts himself as a boy building sandbox cities and learning about the bomb with the grownup man waiting for paramedics after his father collapses and dies.

American suburbs—from Lake-wood to Levittown, N.Y.—are holy places, he contends, held together by the residents’ abiding faith in the promise of houses, tree-lined streets and shops. Here that oft-disparaged and discredited vision is honored by Waldie’s understated eloquence. (Norton, $24)