A frustrated journalist goes where nothing happens, theorizing that when something does, he’ll be there to get the scoop, in this Quixotic quest for the meaning of truth and untruth.
Bored with covering city-council and school-board meetings for the west Texas Big Bend Sentinel, he investigates local lore like the mysterious disappearance of Ambrose Bierce and the devil’s alleged residence in an area cave. With the possibility of a feature in National Geographic, he quits the paper to concentrate full time on his big story: the drought. When work on the story founders, he takes a temporary job as a driver for a New Yorker photographer assigned to take a single photograph that sums up the city where George W. Bush became an oilman. Chagrined to learn a New Yorker writer has scooped him on his drought story, he moves to New Orleans and writes poetry. An American Idol–style poetry contest lures him to Vegas, where he joins the ranks of hundreds of other bizarre and desperate wannabe poets. But semi-fictionalized Silverstein’s journalistic yen won’t die, and his credentials, however dubious, get him contracted to write about a treasure hunt based on a map purported to originate with Jean Lafitte, only to find himself literally blindfolded by the party’s paranoid leader and told he’s forbidden to publish anything about the trip. It’s frustrations like these, along with his own journalistic shortcomings (advance research is not his strength) and a talent for either reproducing or inventing hilarious dialogue, that make these stories a self-deprecating, rollicking picaresque following the loose design of a real-life career that has included covering a bloody Mexican road race and the opening of the first McDonald’s in Zacatecas. He ends with a Borgesian tale of a shorthand expert’s search for his mysteriously vanished family, another oddly comical story that sticks to the theme of the murky lines where writing, reality, fact and fiction intersect.
The juxtaposition of fact and fiction makes an engaging game of each piece, while Silverstein’s eye for oblique detail and an accessible style in the tradition of adventurer-journalists like Samuel Clemens, Susan Orlean and Hunter S. Thompson brings him journalistic success where he claims to fail.