"We do not take a trip; a trip takes us," John Steinbeck noted in his 1962 classic, Travels with Charley. In the summer of 2008, Bill Barich stumbled upon a used copy of Travels in Ireland, where he has lived for the past eight years, and it inspired him to explore the mood of the United States as Steinbeck had done almost a half century before. With a hotly contested election looming, and in the shadow of an economic meltdown, Barich set off on a 5,943-mile cross-country drive from New York to his old hometown in San Francisco via Route 50, a road twisting through the American heartland.
Long Way Home is the stunning result of his pilgrimage, an illuminating and perceptive portrait of America at a dramatic point in its history. Where Steinbeck returned from the road depressed about the country's soul, Barich―while not uncritical of the narrow-mindedness and incivility of our present culture―finds brightness among the dark and rekindles his belief in the long view, as exemplified by the unbridled optimism of some high school kids in Hutchinson, Kansas, and by the undaunted spirit of an eighty-year-old barber he chanced upon in Jefferson City, Missouri. "The world truly does renew itself while we're looking the other way," he observes.
From the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the spectacular landscape of Moab, Utah, to Steinbeck's own Salinas Valley, filled with memorable encounters and redolent with history and local color, Long Way Home is a truthful, inspiring account of the country at a social and political crossroad. "The highway snakes into a tunnel," Barich writes about a stretch of Route 50 in West Virginia, "then erupts into the light with the force of revelation."
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Bill Barich has written for many publications over four decades, including The New Yorker. He is the author of numerous books, including A Pint of Plain, about the decline of Irish culture as revealed by the demise of the classic Irish pub, and the horse racing classic Laughing in the Hills. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.From Publishers Weekly:
If there is one idea that defines America, it is the belief that taking a long road trip is the best way to define America. In this perceptive, optimistic reprise of John Steinbeck's 1962 Travels with Charley, Barich reveals the heartland along a Delaware–Kansas–San Francisco axis of narrow highways through small towns during the 2008 election campaign and economic collapse. Barich allows that this slice of Middle America is whiter, more rural, and more Republican than the country as a whole. It's also, one feels, a traveler's America of cheap motels and lousy chain restaurants, of passing conversations with storekeepers and hospitality workers used to putting up a genial, guarded front for potential customers. (He does get people to divulge their political views, which are an unpredictable mix of sensible concerns and Limbaughesque balderdash.) Barich offers lighthearted travelogue and pithy sketches--Coloradans are "fair and square-jawed, with excellent teeth and no sense of irony"--but also darker reflections on strip-mall blight, vacant hero worship at a Sarah Palin rally, and Indiana's dejected, crystal meth–numbed backwoods. His insights aren't earthshaking--immigrants are still striving, teens are still idealistic--but Barich is a diverting commentator on the landscape streaming past the car window.
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