Sunday, July 27, 2008

Twenty West: the great road across America by Mac Nelson

I would really like to be able to recommend this book. But I can't.

I requested this book to review, and graciously, SUNY Press sent me a copy. I was excited to get it--after all, I grew up not far from US Route 20, traveled it often, and in my years of teaching, 20 was the road that took me home to the sanctuary of Mom and Dad's. Plus, in the last few years, I've taken a couple of cross-country trips and know some of the great places to be found on 20 and other highways.

From reading the teaser that encouraged me to request a review copy, and from the introduction, I expected a memoir of road trips, but instead found myself reading essays about things that have happened and the strange places that are near US Route 20 (and many of them happened prior to the road becoming US Route 20).

I wish I'd found something redemptive in these essays, but I find the writing style (incongruent) and much of the content uninteresting and disconnected. Everything was tied (sometimes very loosely) to the central idea of "The Great Road"--but even the bits of the book dealing with familiar territory in Ohio caused me to be dispassionate.

Also, the writing is filled with generalizations I would expect an educated, experienced writer to avoid--like the part in which Nelson discusses a Japanese internment camp from WWII located near Route 20. Nelson worked with a man who'd spent some of his childhood in that camp and relates that shortly after his family was released, the kid-now-man's mother killed herself. The next sentence states that the colleague attends reunions, and then there's a sentence about the human spirit being indomitable. I know that sentence refers to the colleague, or maybe it's about the fact that there are such reunions, but it's inappropriate to say the human spirit is indomitable just two sentences after mentioning a suicide that clearly indicates that opposite.

The book is full of such generalizations and other flaws and faults I don't expect to find in published work. I'm sorry to have to advise: skip this one. If you're really looking for a book to read about cross country America, my husband recommends Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon.

1 comment:

jenclair said...

I'm going to have to come back when I have more time! I've seen so many books here that interest me...