An exploration of American ideas of utopia through the lens of one millennial's quest to live a more communal life under late-stage capitalism
Told in a series of essays that balance memoir with fieldwork, Heaven Is a Place on Earth
is an idiosyncratic study of American utopian experiments--from the Shakers to the radical faerie communes of Short Mountain to the Bronx rebuilding movement--through the lens of one woman's quest to create a more communal life in a time of unending economic and social precarity.
When Adrian Shirk's father-in-law has a stroke and loses his ability to speak and walk, she and her husband--both adjuncts in their midtwenties--become his primary caretakers. The stress of these new responsibilities, coupled with navigating America's broken health-care system and ordinary twenty-first-century financial insecurity, propels Shirk into an odyssey through the history and present of American utopian experiments in the hope that they might offer a way forward.
Along the way, Shirk seeks solace in her own community of friends, artists, and theologians. They try to imagine a different kind of life, examining what might be replicable within the histories of utopia-making, and what might be doomed. Rather than "no place," Shirk reframes utopia as something that, according to the laws of capital and conquest, shouldn't be able to exist--but does anyway, if only for a moment.