Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Caputo (Crossers, 2009, etc.) chronicles his journey with a vintage Airstream trailer from the southernmost point of the United States to the northernmost reachable point in Deadhorse, Ala., in hopes of discovering what keeps this country united.
Whether he’s panning for gold in the Arctic Circle campground, taking pictures of buffalo in Theodore Roosevelt National Park or riding gaited horses through the Meramec Valley, one thing’s for certain: This reporter has more stamina in him than your average 21-year-old. A few months shy of his 70th birthday, Caputo became re-inspired to discover America by driving cross-country (accompanied by his wife and dogs). In this hybrid memoir/history lesson, Caputo muses on such topics as immigration, foreclosure, and the pros and cons of technology’s influence when traveling (“when [it] was in GPS mode, [the android phone] removed the elements of unpredictability that made travel an adventure”). In the strongest sections, the author records his conversations with both tourists and townsmen—though the historical footnotes often distract from the primary narrative. From chatting with West Virginia missionaries in Key West, to volunteering with the Red Cross in tornado-ravaged Tuscaloosa, to bartering his lawn-mowing services in exchange for room and board on a Meramec Valley horse farm, Caputo creates captivating portraits of a wide variety of communities. His most gripping discussions include his interviews with couples that were forced to downsize, teens that would rather work the land than work online (“you hear more about Lindsay Lohan than you do about crop prices”), and restaurant owners struggling to survive in obsolete towns. Although Caputo doesn’t stumble upon a shared consensus from all his interviewees, he eventually learns that America thrives on both optimism and second chances.
This personal collection of tales, yarns and folklore may not be enough to cure readers’ wanderlust, but it does provide a diverse and acutely observed portrait of our country.