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MISSION TO AMERICA by Walter Kirn

MISSION TO AMERICA

By Walter Kirn

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2005
ISBN: 0-385-50764-X
Publisher: Doubleday

Hatchet-man critic Kirn (Up in the Air, 2001, etc.) swings an ax at a goofy Mormon-like cult and the wacky Americans they proselytize.

Because the Aboriginal Fulfilled Apostles need to replenish their gene pool, Mason LaVerle and Elias Stark depart remote Montana on a mission improbable: Bring back converted women. Raised largely ignorant of contemporary American culture, the young men provide road-trip humor, binging on cable TV, fast food and artificial stimulants. When stuck in a Colorado ski town, the missionaries are sucked into cross-hatched plots involving a suicidal soap-opera actress, a former exotic dancer, the founder of the Church of Outdoors, a literary call girl, a senile plutocrat named Effingham who hosts a buffalo shoot, and a strung-out gay novelist who failed to write a book combining Huckleberry Finn and Day of the Locust. Kirn fails at the same task because, having pilloried these two “crude gypsy mystics,” he can’t transform Mason into a believable Huck. The suicidal actress warns the apostles at one point about the snotty Effingham family, whose “great secret pastime” is caricature. “They’ll stand around the game room repeating all the dumb-ass things you said,” she explains. “It’s vicious, juvenile, ugly stuff.” Kirn himself indulges in the kind of behavior that the Effinghams are accused of. He’s too busy being Paul Bunyan, cutting down all he surveys. Unfortunately, Kirn’s targets aren’t tall timber, but, instead, the dead wood of familiar satire: syncretistic religion, consumerism, food fads, media celebrity, elitist pretenses.

One of Kirn’s characters is lauded for possessing, above all else, “judiciousness.” It’s a quality the author could take up.