State by State A panoramic portrait of America

Book - 2008

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Subjects
Published
New York, NY : Ecco Press c2008.
Language
English
Other Authors
Matt Weiland (-), Sean Wilsey
Item Description
Map on end papers.
Physical Description
xxxi, 572 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps ; 24 cm
ISBN
9780061470905
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
  • Afterword: Washington, D.C.-A Conversation with Edward P. Jones
  • The 50 States in Numbers
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Contributors
  • About the Editors
Review by New York Times Review

A country murder, a train crash, a missing mother: everything collides in Kate Atkinsons latest Jackson Brodie mystery. IT'S hard to imagine a novel starting in a more gripping or terrifying way than Kate Atkinson's new mystery, "When Will There Be Good News?" A stranger with a carving knife ambushes a young family on a deserted country lane, killing mother, daughter, baby, even the dog. The only survivor is the fleet-footed daughter Joanna. Thirty years later, Joanna is Dr. Joanna Hunter, married with a baby and dog of her own, and the man convicted of the slaughter of her family is being released from prison. On that same day, the ex-army man and ex-detective Jackson Brodie is accidentally boarding a doomed train, headed not in the direction of London and his new wife, but toward Edinburgh and an old flame, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, "the one that got away." And as fate would have it Reggie Chase, a plucky teenage girl, recently orphaned and wise beyond her years, sits translating the "Iliad" just feet from the railroad tracks. Now there's a setup. Fans of Atkinson's novels like "Behind the Scenes at the Museum," which won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year, and her two previous literary detective novels, "Case Histories" and "One Good Turn," both featuring the rugged yet sensitive Brodie, can expect "When Will There Be Good News?" to follow standard procedure. Fact: Atkinson doesn't write typical crime novels, but literary hybrids. Exhibit A: Unlike Agatha Christie's briskly plotted whodunits, Atkinson's thrillers unfold leisurely. In this case, chapters provide alternating points of view, which, while intimately acquainting us with each character's back story, can at times derail the novel's narrative momentum. Exhibit B: Unlike the hard-boiled dicks and dames in Chandler's and Hammett's page-turners, Atkinson's characters don't exchange shotgun blasts of dialogue or see the world through a dirty glass. They refer to the works of Browning and Hemingway, and quote Scripture. They sing nursery rhymes and dirges, and crack literary jokes. Louise characterizes her previous relationship with Brodie as being "as chaste as protagonists in an Austen novel. All sense and no sensibility, no persuasion at all." And struck by the mounting death toll of those close to her, steady-as-she-goes Reggie wonders whether she's more "troubled teen or angel of death?" Exhibit C: There will be no corraling of suspects into a darkened parlor. No show-stopping moments of revelation à la Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, where the motive and manner of the crime are exposed. Why, you ask? Because there is little mystery as to who committed the crimes, and few clues as to why. The mysteries Atkinson is most invested in are those of the human heart. Note: There are, however, elements of the classic mystery that Atkinson does embrace, most notably the coincidence. As Jackson Brodie says, "A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen." To wit: When Brodie's train collides with a car stranded on the tracks, his whole life is literally turned upside down. His wallet, his Blackberry and his memory all go missing. As he sprawls half-dead on the hillside, it is Reggie Chase who breathes life back into him - coincidentally, she learned CPR during her training to become a mother's helper to Dr. Joanna Hunter. And how curious that Hunter and her son are the same age as her mother and brother were when they were stabbed to death. More evidence of Atkinson's fondness for coincidence: It just so happens that the man Reggie has saved is not only a sleuth but "a shepherd," who "couldn't rest until the flock was accounted for, all gathered safely in. It was his calling and his curse. Protect and serve." How fortunate that when Joanna Hunter and her baby suddenly disappear and her handsome ne'er-do-well husband, under suspicion of arson, attempts to stonewall Reggie's efforts to locate her, Jackson is ready to take the case. Though whether or not Joanna Hunter needs protecting, whether or not she's still a victim, remains to be seen. NOTE: Despite an arresting first chapter, what seems of most interest to Atkinson isn't the solving of crimes, but the solving of the problem of being alive. What happens to those left behind, the ones held hostage by sorrow and disappointment? How do we pull ourselves out of the rubble of grief? How do we cope with the death of a loved one, transcend a childhood worthy of Dickens, survive the accident of having married the wrong person? How do we get what we need? Conclusion: While Atkinson engages us with black humor and rich character development and while Reggie Chase is a delight, the absence of sustained suspense begins to fray our connection to the characters. Sensing perhaps that she's lollygagging, Atkinson sprints for the last 75 pages, delivering a rushed, overly neat ending that, while cleanly tying up the big threads, leaves many questions about the characters and their futures unanswered. My powers of deduction suggest Atkinson's "When Will There Be Good News?" is, and this is just a theory, a setup for the next, and, I trust, more satisfying Jackson Brodie mystery. Of course I don't have proof. That's just a guess. Elissa Schappell is editor at large for Tin House magazine, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and the author of "Use Me," a novel.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009]
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Starred Review. Without leaving home or spending a cent on gas, readers of this book can enjoy a scenic view of the entire U.S. that is as familiar as it is disorienting. Weiland, deputy editor of the Paris Review, and Wilsey, editor-at-large for McSweeney's, have gathered a group of 50 disparate voices to explore not just their experience in America, but the way each state was presented in the American Guide series of the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s, in which the Works Project Administration (WPA), as part of F.D.R's New Deal, put more than 6000 American writers to work creating a portrait of this country. The editors wanted to make a book inspired by the ideals behind the WPA Guides but they also wanted something more personal, more eccentric, and more partial. Obvious heavy-hitters--Dave Eggars (Illinois), Rick Moody (Connecticut), Jhumpa Lahiri (Rhode Island), Barry Hannah (Mississippi), William T. Vollmann (California)--are included, as well as some wonderful surprises. Alison Bechdel's illustrated story about her life after moving to Vermont brilliantly combines personal history with historical fact, as does Charles Bock's essay on growing up and working in his parent's Las Vegas pawnshop. Mohammed Naseehu Ali's tale of life in Michigan, after moving there from Ghana as a teen, illuminates what the unconditionally generous Michigan nature shares with the traditions of his own Hausa-Islamic culture. And Franzen's imaginary interview with the state of New York is perhaps the high point among this collection of beguiling summations of something all the writers share: a love-hate relationship with how their chosen state has changed and evolved during the course of their lives. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Weiland (deputy editor, Paris Review) and Wilsey, who coedited The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, were inspired by the famous WPA guides of the 1930s to bring together this collection of original essays. Each piece here may be smaller in scope than the original WPA state guides, but the overall editorial task is ambitious. Consisting of 50 essays from 50 different authors, including Dave Eggers (Illinois), Anthony Bourdain (New Jersey), S.E. Hinton (Oklahoma), and Jhumpa Lahiri (Rhode Island), this work aims to provide more than mere demographic information about each state (though it does include that). Each also offers a personal, distinct, and often humorous look at the state in question. Particularly inventive are two pieces told in the style of graphic novels, one by Joe Sacco (Oregon) and the other by Alison Bechdel (Vermont). Readers with an interest in the endless variety of attitudes, lifestyles, viewpoints, and experiences to be found across America will enjoy this work. Recommended for public libraries.--Elizabeth L. Winter, Georgia Inst. of Technology, Atlanta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Self-consciously modeled after state guides sponsored by the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s, this ambitious effort features a terrific roster of writers and arrives just in time for the November elections. Best here are the immigrant stories: Mohammed Naseehu Ali's reflections on his introduction to America's generosity as a Ghanaian high-school student at a Michigan arts academy; Ha Jin's account of his early years developing as a writer in Georgia; Jhumpa Lahiri's informative memoir about growing up in Rhode Island. Jack Hitt writes hilariously of the South Carolina temperament, made up of "easy rage, china-shop recklessness and merry eccentricity"and he's from the genteel outpost of Charleston. Jonathan Franzen invents a lame interview with a couple of New York State lackeys eager to give him the official scoop, while Lydia Millet offers an openly hostile view of Arizona and the wasteful populace that doesn't value it. But many writers display genuine love for their state, alongside satisfactory morsels of truth, as in Ann Patchett's monologue on changes she's witnessed over the years in Tennessee, Alison Bechdel's charming cartoon about her life in Vermont, William T. Vollmann's expression of enduring faith in California and Philip Connors's riff on the phenomenon of the "Minnesota Nice." Othersseemingly all New Yorkersbriefly pass through their assigned state on vacation: Sad Sayrafiezadeh in South Dakota, David Rakoff in Utah and Will Blythe in New Hampshire, whose "paradoxical pride in one's modesty" he likens to that of the natives in his natal North Carolina. Susan Orlean puts to bed the myths about Ohio, and Andrea Lee, raised in Philadelphia, expresses her conflicted feelings about the utopian ideals of her birth state. Like most anthologies, it's uneven, and individual essays are somewhat narrow in focus. But Paris Review deputy editor Weiland and McSweeney's editor at large Wilsey (co-editors: The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, 2006, etc.) keep it positive and heartfelt. Ranges from delights to self-indulgent snores. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

State by State A Panoramic Portrait of America Chapter One Alabama Capital Montgomery Entered Union 1819 (22nd) Origin of name Possibly from a Choctaw Indian word meaning "thicket-clearers" or "vegetation-gatherers" Nickname Yellowhammer State Motto Audemus jura nostra defendere ("We dare defend our rights") Residents Alabamian or Alabaman U.S. Representatives 7 State bird yellowhammer State flower camellia State tree Southern longleaf pine State song "Alabama" Land area 50,744 sq. mi. Geographic center In Chilton Co., 12 mi. SW of Clanton Population 4,557,808 White 71.1% Black 26.0% American Indian 0.5% Asian 0.7% Hispanic/Latino 1.7% Under 18 26.3% 65 and over 13.0% Median age 35.8 Alabama George Packer In the summer of 1980, when I was nineteen, I worked as a $600-a-month intern at a government-funded poverty law center in Alabama, renting a matchbox house with two black law students at the crumbling edge of downtown Mobile. It was a record hot summer, at a record high in urban seediness: Mobile, the poor man's New Orleans, was hollowed out by economic stagnation and the white exodus that followed desegregation. Carter was in the White House, the azaleas in Bienville Square were dead, and the sixteen blocks between the house and office offered the comfort of no trees, only the glare of the sun and an assortment of drunks, casual laborers, and petty criminals. My yellow short-sleeved Oxford shirt, too heavy in the humidity, instantly marked me as a carpetbagger, and one morning a razor-thin limping man pursued me block after block, yelling, "Hey! Ass-hole!" Anomie set in the day I arrived--everything shut down for Memorial Day weekend--and pursued me all the way to my departure in August. At times it grew so intense that the only relief came in cups of mocha-flavored instant International Coffee, from a red-and-white tin, which I bought at a shop downtown and savored as the taste of civilization itself. The house on St. Francis Street had only one air-conditioner. Carlos, the law student to arrive first, grabbed it, and never let go. Cooled only by an ineffective fan, my room began to incubate turd-sized cockroaches. Carlos, from American University in Washington, despised me on sight. This was upsetting, because I had gone South with the idea of becoming a latter-day soldier in the civil rights struggle. I saw myself, in all modesty, as an heir to Schwerner and Goodman, the two white northerners killed in 1964 outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, with their black movement colleague Chaney. The Mother's Day melee when the Freedom Riders pulled into the Birmingham bus terminal, the fire hoses and K-9 squads in Linn Park, George Wallace standing in the doorway at the University of Alabama to prevent Vivian Malone and James Hood from becoming the first black students to attend--in my mind, all of this had happened the day before yesterday. My backpack carried Robert Coles's study of the psychology of black children during desegregation, Children of Crisis , Anne Moody's memoir of growing up black during the civil rights era, Coming of Age in Mississippi , and (because I accepted Black Power as a necessary stage of the movement) Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice . But it was hard to sustain my own private freedom ride after I discovered that Carlos kept a personal roll of toilet paper in his bedroom, ferrying it back and forth to the john. So much for black and white together. That first weekend, before contempt had hardened into hatred, Carlos and I went out to get a bite to eat. A black neighbor saw us round the corner and exclaimed in wonder, "You black and you white but you both walking together!" Confronted with this nightmare tableau of black abjectness, white noblesse, and assumed interracial harmony, Carlos dispatched both the neighbor and me with a strained, sneering laugh. It was little consolation that Raymond, the other housemate, from Rutgers and gay, liked me fine. Carlos's rejection nagged at me all summer, but my civil rights romance was too strong to be snuffed out. The law center was opening satellite offices in the rural counties north of Mobile Bay, and I spent many days doing advance work by way of Greyhound buses to Monroeville and Evergreen. These were some of the poorest places in America. In Monroe County, which, according to the 1980 census, was 43 percent black, median white family income was $17,600 and median black family income was just over $9,000. Conecuh County was even poorer. I interviewed an old woman with a picture on the wall of her shack showing the two Kennedys and King under the words "The Three Who Set Us Free." She didn't seem very free: There was no indoor plumbing in the shack. The revolution of the early sixties had blown through the bigger cities in Alabama and barely touched these piney backwoods. "We get along just fine with our colored folks," the probate judge of Monroe County told me, sounding like a hundred years of predecessors. I was looking for something--marches, drama, self-sacrifice, community, history--that now existed only in books. Less than two decades before, when Coles was working as a child psychiatrist amid the upheavals of southern desegregation, a young black civil rights worker told him that he'd joined the movement because "I'll be lucky if I can vote, and be treated better than a dog every time I go to register my car, or try for a driving license, or go to buy something in a store." By 1980, what was left of the movement had migrated behind the closed doors of the courts. The law center was involved in several important civil rights suits, including desegregation and voting rights cases against the Mobile school board and county commission, but these were moving slowly, obscurely, through the legal system. Class-action lawsuits were not what I had in mind that summer. I wanted the sight of headlights in my rearview mirror on a rural road. In fact, the Klan still operated in Mobile, as the country learned just a few months later, in March 1981, when two of its members randomly lynched a nineteen-year-old black youth on a city street. (Eventually they were convicted, and one was electrocuted in the first execution of a white man for the murder of a black man in Alabama since 1913. The United Klans of America was later bankrupted by a civil suit that forced the Alabama chapter to turn over its Tuscaloosa meeting hall to the victim's mother, who used the proceeds to buy her first house.) But the main battle for equality in Alabama and the South was over. I had arrived in time for its ambiguous and incomplete aftermath: superficial civility, de facto segregation, economic inequality, with most of the stirring old words gone stale from sloganeering. As Carlos made clear, laws did not change hearts. State by State A Panoramic Portrait of America . Copyright © by Matt Weiland. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America by Sean Wilsey, Matt Weiland All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.