Novelist and nonfiction writer O’Grady (On Golf: The Game, the Players, and a Personal History of Obsession, 2005, etc.) chronicles his road trip across America.
Born in the United States, the author lived there until 1973, when he moved to Europe in his early 20s. He’d only been back stateside a few times, and then only briefly. Now in his 50s, he felt the need to reconnect with America via a road trip from New York to San Francisco through the north and back through the south. He clearly views the trip as a romantic, Kerouac-style quest: “The American road is a great seduction,” he writes early on. Traveling through cities and towns across the country, he interacted with friends, family and many strangers—most unknown, but some famous, such as the writer Edmund White in New York and the activist Tom Hayden in California. O’Grady gives historical sketches along the way, though often with a vague, hearsay quality, and peppered with quotes from more insightful writers. The author also dabbles in political discussion (predictably, the George W. Bush administration is a common and frankly easy target), and he hops haphazardly from topic to topic: NAFTA, the meatpacking industry, blues music, Walt Whitman—whatever peculiarly American subject strikes his fancy at the moment. However, the author has a gift for getting strangers to open up, and he recalls interesting conversations with a wide variety of people, including an Indian motel owner, a group of rappers and an Alabama Klansman. Ultimately, O’Grady fails to delve deeply into his subjects, and the narrative becomes less a comprehensive portrait of the real America than a scattershot collection of accumulated details.
A rather run-of-the mill travelogue, despite the author’s lofty ambitions.