Critical Overview

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Like many of the poems in At the End of the Open Road, “In the Suburbs” explores the contradictions between America’s promise and its reality. Reviewing the collection for Southern Review, Ronald Moran writes that although he does not believe that Simpson’s longer poems succeed, he enjoys his shorter ones. “In the Suburbs” works because it is a “statement poem” that relies on “a quiet power generated through restrained diction, loose rhythms, and an imaginative interplay between subject and attitude.” Commenting on the sadness of the poem, poet and critic James Dickey says that “In the Suburbs” underscores the impoverished inner life of the American individual in the mid-twentieth century, living in a landscape of used-car lots and suburbs. “Nothing can be done,” Dickey writes. “The individual has only what he has, only what history has allowed him to be born to.” While praising Simpson’s poetry in general, R. W. Flint finds the poem confusing, unsure of its meaning. Flint writes, “The ending is unsatisfactory. Does he mean there is a religious temple-haunting dimension to suburbia? The John Cheever gospel? Or does he only mean that things have gone rapidly downhill, that homo medius americanus can but dimly understand what he has lost?” The poem’s brevity and very American-ness make it a popular choice for anthologies.

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Essays and Criticism