If Chrissie Hynde had been an author rather than a rocker, she might have written “Home Town,” the first section in Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s polemic against “progress,” instead of “My City Was Gone.” Both artists lament the suburbanization of their native Ohio. Pierson grew up in Akron during the ’60s and ’70s. In The Place You Love Is Gone, she remembers it with the aching specificity of nostalgia, and catalogs with eloquent fury the changes that greed has wrought on the landscape since.
Part memoir, part philosophical treatise on the idea of home, part history lesson: Pierson’s lyrical prose weaves elements of all three into a whole poised somewhere between a narrative and an essay collection. The main sections correspond to the places Pierson has lived: Akron, Hoboken, and the Catskills of New York. She recalls an ’80s-era Maxwell’s and the onslaught of gentrification during her time in New Jersey, and then draws back to describe the wholesale destruction of upstate towns to create the reservoirs holding New York City’s municipal water supply. Throughout, Pierson’s lovely writing conceals a hard-edged truth: There are 6.5 billion of us, and in a generation there will be up to 2 billion more. She offers no prescriptions for stemming the tide of development. So-called progress is as intractable and inevitable, Pierson suggests, as our pure yearning for our places of origin.