Setting off from his Wyoming home, copies of the American Guides produced by the Federal Writer's Project in the 1930's in hand, the author crosses the country in search of what remains of the America of a half-century ago. What he discovers—in a backwoods community in the Appalachians, in the granite hills of Vermont, on Louisiana's Mississippi Delta—is sometimes heartwarming, sometimes surprising, frequently amusing, and always engrossing. O'Gara, previously a newspaperman in Washington, D.C., has a sharpshooter's eye for the telling detail and a keen ear for the colorful turn-of-phrase. Best of all, he is a sympathetic chronicler of his subjects' fancies, foibles, and frustrations. There is never a sense of caricature in his delineation of each personality he encounters, whether it's Sadie Kimble, a feisty octogenarian from Smoke Hole, West Virginia, or Archanna Christos, the dying leader of a New Age ashram in the bayous of Louisiana. Moreover, the text is dotted with whimsical anecdotes, e.g., the town meeting O'Gara attended in Barre, Vermont, in which a resolution was passed preventing entertainers in the opera house, located above the municipal offices, from tap-dancing during business hours. Returning to the seaside town of Monterey, Cal., where he was raised, the author reminisces about his publisher-grandfather—and in the process produces a moving memorial to a man whose values he rejected early on but whom he eventually came to respect. Also included in the lively narrative are obscure bits of information about such matters as the lawsuits that surrounded the composition and publication of"Home on the Range," how the tumbleweed was introduced into the American West, and what has happened to Aimee Semple McPherson's Angelus Temple in southern California since the evangelist's death in 1944. An original and constantly intriguing view of the America that has survived the past 50 years.
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