Nostalgia Trips

"Long ago there was something in me but now that thing is gone…That thing will come back no


- F. Scott Fitzgerald


Douglas Unger: Leaving the Land; Harper & Row; New York.


William McPherson: Testing the Current; Simon & Schuster; New York.


It would be off the mark to regard Douglas Unger's Leaving the Land and William McPherson's Testing the Current as no more than the latest contributions to the cult of nostalgia which, still it seems, has a firm grasp on American culture. But if the two novels rise above   the phenomenon, they nonetheless bear some relationship to it. Reading them had the effect on me of rekindling an old curiosity. Why is it that so many Americans in recent years have found solace in looking back longingly on a past they imagine to be superior to the present? Is it, I wonder, one of those grass-roots movements which are actually inspired and sustained by the mass media?

First of all, it has to be acknowledged that all peoples everywhere tend to gild the past and to lend it a luster it probably never had. Memory has a way of being kind. But all this is something which is not only inevitable, but necessary and even healthy, for a people that does not keep track of the past soon finds that it has lost its identity and sense of purpose. However,...

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