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The Absent Hand

Reimagining Our American Landscape

List Price: $26.00

ON SALE: March 12, 2019 | Hardcover | 6.0 x 9.0, 256 pages | ISBN 9781640092211
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This engrossing work of literary nonfiction is a deep dive into our surroundings—cities, countryside, and sprawl—exploring change in the meaning of place, and reimagining our American landscape

Following her bestselling The Architect of Desire, Suzannah Lessard returns with a remarkable book, a work of relentless curiosity and a graceful mixture of observation and philosophy. This intriguing hybrid will remind some of W. G. Sebald’s work and others of Rebecca Solnit’s, but it is Lessard’s singular talent to combine this profound book-length mosaic—a blend of historical travelogue, reportorial probing, philosophical meditation, and prose poem—into a work of unique genius, as she describes and reimagines our landscapes. In this exploration of our surroundings, The Absent Hand contends that to reimagine landscape is a form of cultural reinvention.

This engrossing work of literary nonfiction is a deep dive into our surroundings—cities, countryside, and sprawl—exploring change in the meaning of place and reimagining the world in a time of transition. Whether it be climate change altering the meaning of nature, or digital communications altering the nature of work, the effects of global enclosure on the meaning of place are panoramic, infiltrative, inescapable. No one will finish this book, this journey, without having their ideas of living and settling in their surroundings profoundly enriched.

About Suzannah Lessard

SUZANNAH LESSARD is the bestselling author of The Architect of Desire, a New York Times Notable Book. A founding editor of The Washington Monthly and a staff writer at The New Yorker for twenty years, she is a recipient of the Whiting and Lukas Awards, and has received fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and George Washington University.


Praise for The Absent Hand

“Of beach plums, ramps, and Ramada Inns: a quietly sensitive, eminently sensible consideration of the landscapes of our lives . . . A gift.” —Kirkus Reviews

Praise for The Architect of Desire

A National Bestseller
New York Times Notable Book of The Year in 1996

“Few writers have ever captured the exquisite, delicate balance of architecture and memory as eloquently and as movingly . . . In the end this book is about the loss of innocence, innocence about art as much as about life, and while its memories are sad and painful, it is a paean to passion. —Paul Goldberger, The New York Times Book Review

“An extraordinary memoir. The emotional force of [Lessard’s] final revelation is so powerful that to describe it here would be like giving away the ending of a mystery thriller.” —Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, New York Times

“The patterns she detects in his life and architecture—’harmony with chaos underneath,’ an ‘atmosphere of joy trapped in silence, with catastrophe latent,’ ‘the whirlwind in the calm—she also sees in her family’s life and her own.”—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

“Powerful…Seductive…Lessard’s The Architect of Desire is a turbulent, highly textured memoir.” —Elle

“An austerely beautiful, one-of-a-kind exorcism.” —Newsday

“A haunting family history.” —San Francisco Chronicle 

“In this inventive hybrid format — part social history, part intergenerational chronicle, part personal memoir—[Lessard] ties together the truth of her family’s strong and strange history (a strangeness scarcely spoken about among clan members) by pulling on threads of aesthetic sensitivity and sexual perversity that weave from generation to generation. Lessard writes beautifully, compassionately, with the soft precision of a poet, but her story is a harsh one, and she doesn’t shield herself from difficult scrutiny, either.” —Entertainment Weekly

“In the beauty and terror of her prose, [Lessard] gives form to a century of hidden experience, puts words to a century of silence… Language, too, has an architectural dimension. In the right hands, it can span vast, uncharted regions of time and place. And this edifice… is Lessard’s gift to her readers.” —The Boston Sunday Globe

“Suzannah Lessard’s memoir assembles the beautiful wreckage of a family obsessed, from generation to generation, with art, class and female flesh. …[S]he transforms her family romance into a much larger vision of desire.”—Los Angeles Times

“CAPTIVATING…A POWERFUL STORY… both well-paced and deftly written… [Lessard] has a true gift for capturing the power of architecture and the meaning that lie behind it.” —Portland Oregonian

“Dizzying literary brilliance…a literate, cerebral memoir.” —Hartford Courant

“This is a magnificent book. Cathedral-like in form, heroic as to emotional content, it will stand as one of the great spiritual autobiographies of a generation.” —Kennedy Fraser, author of Ornament and Silence

“When a writer as gifted as Lessard makes her debut with a memoir as candid, perceptive and wrenchingly affecting as this history of her family, it is a signal event… The Architect of Desire is both a triumph for her and a resonating experience for her readers.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Winner of the 1995 Whiting Award and a staff writer for the New Yorker, Lessard is both precise and lyrical, and her disquieting family history is redolent with the hypocrisy of the Gilded Age, rich with descriptions of White’s aggressively seductive architecture, and charged by the noble if painful effort of breaking the soul-smothering silence that has plagued her family for so long.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist

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