HELLA NATION by Evan Wright


Looking for Happy Meals in Kandahar, Rocking the Side Pipe, Wingnut’s War Against the Gap, and Other Adventures with the Totally Lost Tribes of America
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A dozen unforgettable reports from the underbelly of American life, from Vanity Fair contributing editor Wright (Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War, 2004).

Shunning the “gonzo journalism” tag associated with the late Hunter S. Thompson, Wright notes that his work “has always been to focus on my subjects in all their imperfect glory.” Well, almost: Two essays deal with Wright’s adventures a decade ago in the pornography industry, at Hustler and at Internet Entertainment Group, where he worked for Seth Warshavsky, “the first and greatest con artist of the digital era.” That background, along with his past struggles with drugs and alcohol, dissolves some of the traditional distance between reporter and subject. Whether covering skateboarders, Seattle anti-globalism protestors and ecoterrorists, neo-Nazis or peddlers of human-growth hormone, Wright investigates what he calls “rejectionists” of the American Dream without romanticizing or condescending. He may not approach these outsiders and misfits with the kind of raffish affection displayed by legendary New Yorker nonfiction chroniclers Joseph Mitchell and A.J. Liebling, but Wright’s reports are every bit as memorable. His Mötley Crüe profile depicts the heavy-metal group as more cretinous than the fictional Spinal Tap. The quotes are frequently profane and virtually always pungent—for example, former Hollywood agent and sometime substance abuser Pat Dollard, ready to start bingeing again, urges the author: “Let’s take ten grand, go to Las Vegas, get a bunch of hookers and blow, and have fun for a few days”—and Wright’s sensory descriptions are searing, as when he evokes the discomfort of American soldiers in Afghanistan: “The first hot winds of the morning bear an overwhelming smell of raw sewage, spiced with the odor of disinfectant from the latrines outside the tent, not to mention occasional gusts of diesel fuel blowing off the line of helicopters on the nearby runway.”

Vivid confirmation of the arrival of a major chronicler of those who live on or beyond the margins of the American mainstream.

Pub Date: April 7th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-399-15574-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2009