A sophomoric, nearly snide first-person account of two college grads crossing the country, in 1984, in search of American kitsch. Veteran of numerous Winnebago trips as a kid, narrator Winegardner decides to preface his upcoming wedding with one more road trip--this time in the company of old Miami U. pal Bob Wakefield. Taking off from Ohio in Bob's 1968 Chevy Impala (dubbed ""El Basuero, a lovely name for an unlovely thing""), the two head first for Gatlinburg, Tenn., home to a cluster of tacky attractions including--central to the duo's thematic lust for Elvisiana--the Elvis Presley Heartbreak Hotel, an Elvis Museum, and the Gatlinburg Wax Museum, where you can ""SEE ELVIS! !"" Winegardner writes of Gatlinburg in serviceable if flat prose (""We stood face-to-face with a wax, vaguely Oriental-looking Elvis, sporting Las Vegas clothes on a Louisiana-Hayride body""), but as his quest for kitsch continues--through Ruby Frills, Pensacola Beach, Bourbon Street, the Louisiana World Exposition--a disagreeable note of superiority sneaks in, surfacing first in lampooning Southern accents (""'Oh, so you're going to the [World's] faya?' the mother broke in. . .""), reaching full bloom in his description of Graceland, where, instead of attempting to fathom the appeal for millions of this bizarre shrine, Winegardner offers only a flat tour of its contents, with a few sneers at those who cherish it without irony (""I knew I could never again consider Elvis Presley's death in any way premature""). The remainder of the trip--they make it to Universal Studios--again reveals only the surface, not the soul, of Americana. This is no contemporary On the Road, but rather a silly joy ride that skids and slides from one postcard-level observation to another ("" 'Look,' I shouted, 'Our first Stuckey's sign!' ""). No pit stop here.
Pub Date: Jan. 27, 1987
Page Count: -
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown