A captivating portrait of a day in the life of the United States by a much-honored Washington Post journalist.
Weingarten (The Fiddler on the Subway, 2010, etc.), the only two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, notes at the beginning that only one of his previous books has “even approached commercial success.” His latest book is his most ambitious, with the author showing how much art a great journalist can wrest from a literary stunt with a theme as old as that of Thornton Wilder’s in Our Town: Each day is remarkable in its own way. He chose a date at random—Dec. 28, 1986—and then found people for whom its events indelibly stamped all the days that followed. He admits that “it was a stunt. But I like stunts, particularly if they can illuminate unexpected truths…although great matters make for strong narratives, power can also lurk in the latent and mundane.” Some of his entries give memorable glimpses of celebrities, among them New York City mayor Ed Koch, Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia, and dooce website founder Heather Armstrong. But Weingarten offers equally vivid profiles of the less well known. They include Prentice Rasheed, a Miami shopkeeper who accidentally electrocuted a burglar with a homemade booby trap he’d installed to deter intruders; Brad Wilson, who walked away after his helicopter flipped over and crashed during a fishing trip in the Pacific Northwest; and Eva Baisey, a nursing student from Washington, D.C., who had implanted in her body the heart of a dead murderer and who improbably has become “one of the longest-living transplant patients on the planet.” One of the finest plain-prose stylists in American journalism, Weingarten tells his elegantly structured stories without sentimentality or melodrama, a virtue especially apparent in his story of two policemen who rushed into a flaming house in Falls City, Nebraska, hoping in vain to save a 2-year-old boy and 1-year-girl.
A slice of American life carved out by a master of the form.