Off to look for America.
McPherson (Creative Writing/Washington Univ., St. Louis; The Backwash Squeeze and Other Improbable Feats: A Newcomer’s Journey into the World of Bridge, 2007, etc.) took the Paul Simon line, “gone to look for America,” to heart when he was compiling this collection, in which he offers seven reflective essays that scrutinize and personally dissect different cities and parts of the U.S. In “Echo Patterns,” Dallas, Texas, where the author grew up, a city that was “called forth in the minds of white men,” is seen through three lenses: its history, the eponymous TV series, and the JFK assassination. It doesn’t fare too well. “Lost and Found” is a rueful, autobiographical piece about the McPherson family home built by his great-great-grandfather in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1870. It’s literally about the home and the many things in it, found, lost, and stolen: “Am I really writing about the past, or am I stealing it?” Then it’s on to the author’s current hometown, St. Louis, a “city of gates that do not normally swing wide.” McPherson goes back and forth, juxtaposing the 1904 World’s Fair with the current city, often ranked as America’s most segregated. With terrible public schools, failed public housing, and high crime rates, it’s “a city haunted, proud of its past but worried its best days are behind it.” After a brief detour to another city the author lived in, New York, with its imposing, mystifying underground tunnels, he’s off to Los Alamos and the site of the atomic bomb blast. “How to Survive an Atomic Bomb” is richly informative and unsettling, but the best essay is the longest, on the “blazing rigs, equipment, settlements, and gas flares of the North Dakota Miracle…a.k.a. Kuwait on the Prairie.” It’s a frightening profile of a land and people gone oil crazy. The final essay, about LA, is aptly titled “Three Minutes to Midnight.”
A lively, enlightening, and occasionally disturbing book that envisions the future as already broken.