In this thoroughly entertaining travel narrative, Clarke (Pearl Harbor Ghosts: A Journey to Hawaii Then and Now, 1991, etc.) takes the measure of the San Andreas fault, that 750-mile scar running head to foot through California, and finds residing along the crack a sideshow's worth of oddballs, shysters, and ugly memories. The fault comes ashore in rugged, remote Shelter Cove, where Clarke picks it up. One of those real-estate diddles classic to coastal developments, the cove is the source for an endless river of cranks, misfits, eccentrics, and garden variety weirdos running down the fault line: folks with headaches that predict earthquakes (perhaps the magnetite in their inner ears picks up electromagnetic signals from grinding tectonic plates); the insane Hoods gang members who commit meanness in Saratoga; garlic thieves in Gilroy; vicious counterculturalists in Bolinas; a pathetic, bloated flasher with a car full of Wendy's wrappers. More gratifying is the Anderson Valley Advertiser, ``the funniest, nastiest, most high- minded and vulgar, entertaining, and addictive small-town weekly newspaper in the nation,'' and its editor Bruce Anderson. Then again, Clarke never shrinks from serious business: He chronicles the devastation of the Wiyot Indians around Eureka and experiences the brutal clearcuts of Humboldt and Mendocino counties, where the land has come to resemble the ``fur of a sick cat'' (unhappily, since redwoods can be used as seismic timetables—Clarke is forever on the quake beat). Knit through the journey, pretty much stealing the show, are Clarke's tack-sharp landscape sketches, for the San Andreas is a genius at ``creating razorback ridges, folded green hills, soaring sea cliffs, pink mountains rising from desert, and jumbled wine-friendly valleys.'' A nearly edible travelogue—smooth as mousse, full of savory tidbits, and memorable.
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