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BIG DREAMS by Bill Barich


Into the Heart of California

by Bill Barich

Pub Date: May 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-42151-3
Publisher: Pantheon

 A well-written but disappointing attempt to draw a big portrait of a big state, with lots of minutiae and generalizations, but not enough in between. Barich's midlife-crisis journey from Northern to Southern California has promise. Providing lots of historical details and describing interesting encounters with local people, he makes his way along major and minor roads in search of the real state behind all the myths and dreams. He goes from Indian reservations to the Haight, from San Joaquin Valley farming communities to Disneyland, from nutty Venice to mesas overlooking illegal immigration spots on the borders in an ambitious attempt to tell the story of California's attraction and appeal. Trouble is, it's a big, populous state, and even this longish book does not finally elucidate its complexity. And Barich (Hard to Be Good, 1987), for all of his library research, seems to miss points again and again as he wends his way southward. He sees the American Indians he encounters as passive and passionless others living in some sort of netherworld that he and people like him cannot touch. He finds among those dying of AIDS at San Francisco General Hospital only one sort of decaying, ungrateful patient. He observes of his other subjects only the most common stereotypes as well. Finally, it seems that he took the trouble of making the trip only to confirm what he read in books, rather than to achieve a rich and varied dialogical portrait of his land of dreams. An impressive style finds nowhere to go in this overly long, overly general book.