Missing the Point

Missing the Point

Bowling Alone:
The Collapse and Revival of American Community

by Robert Putnam
Simon & Schuster, 2000, 544 pp.

TUCKED AWAY on a shelf in my parents’ home is a trophy honoring their achievements in the Knights of Pythias bowling league. My parents haven’t bowled in years, but after they got married in 1957, bowling was the ticket to membership in their adopted community, an unassuming suburb near Atlantic City. Now they live in Chappaqua, New York. The trophy stands forgotten in a corner of their big house, a furtive reminder of their modest beginnings. Long before they were neighbors of Hillary and Bill, it seems, my mom and dad bowled with Ralph and Alice Cramden.

Today, my parents lament the loss of community symbolized by that lonely trophy. Perched at the top of what might well be a mile-long driveway, they complain that the world is more isolated than it used to be. Losing sight of how they uprooted themselves, they forget that their escape from community was also an attempt to escape from class, or, to be more precise, from the lower to the upper class. Coming up that driveway, they thought less about saying good-bye to neighborhood than saying hello to status. And so their mourning, for all its poignancy, is saddled with evasive sentimentality.