American Nomad by Steve Erickson (1997, Henry Holt)
I disagreed with most of this book: the analysis of then-current events, the predictions for the future, the interpretations of the past. I really shouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did.
The book was written while Erickson was on assignment to cover the 1996 election, and that event forms the thematic focus of the book. The author’s biases bleed from the pages. He writes from the perspective of Educated Democrat circa 1996, and because of that every cheap canard tossed out about Bush, Reagan and their associates is undeniably true; Dole is weak and has no real interest in winning; and the Republicans have already lost all future elections because they’re clinging to outdated things like morality and pro-life positions when the overwhelming majority of the youth don’t support those things.
He recognizes Clinton’s faults not because he seems critical of them, but because they exist. He speaks well at times of both Dole and Kemp. All of this, I was left to suspect, could be said because Clinton won and they lost.
All of that said, the style, albeit cribbed heavily from the works of Hunter S. Thompson and the beat authors, is entertaining rather than disruptive (a rare feat for those who write like one of the Burroughs crew) and manages to keep the reader interested while informing them about the events of the day.
I might be less inclined to like the book if the various predictions had been proven valid. Instead I can read it with a measure of appreciation and sympathy without emotional distress. This is, I suspect, because for eight years Bush won (and for seven years afterward, the arguments for principles had won) and Erickson lost.
And that’s not to say for a moment that there is not good reporting. One point of particular interest came in chapter 41. “What bothered him about the recent revelations concerning white supremacists in Buchanan’s campaign wasn’t the substance of the charges but that they made the candidate vulnerable to guys like me. “The media, no offense, will kill him.”
When I first read the book, I rolled my eyes at the example, thinking it was just another case of the press holding up a rare exception as if they were the rule. In light of the Trump era, I realize that by including only a few examples of such people, Erickson was actually presenting a very fair cross-section of the Republican voter, I was merely too blind and obstinate to accept it.
The Fabulous Clipjoint by Fredric Brown (1947, Dutton)
This novel introduced Ed Hunter and his uncle Ambrose. Ed is a young man looking for his father’s killer and Ambrose – Am – is a carnival pitchman who’s willing to help his relative.
Brown excelled in characterization, a skill not always in high demand in the pulp markets where he sold much of his writing. The plot of the book is fine – excellent, in fact, both as an examination of human foibles and as a murder mystery puzzle – but where Brown most differentiated himself was in his ability to add depth and realism to the people who populated his stories.
The reader is brought along with Ed and Am as they track down the clues that lead to the killer, step by step. Little depends on luck, and an astute reader may deduce the killer before they’re revealed. The final reveal makes sense based on we’ve learned about the personalities involved. It’s a solid mystery all the way around, and a great introduction to pulp-era mysteries.