9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Not So Divine, Totally Unmagnetic.,
This review is from: Divine Magnetic Lands: A Journey in America (Hardcover)
Timothy O'Grady is an American born novelist who has spent most of his adult life outside his homeland. For Divine Magnetic Lands he revisited the country of his birth for a road tour and to report on the state of the nation. Sounds like a great idea. It has appealed to many novelists in the past including, notably, Henry Miller, John Steinbeck and (in fictional form) Jack Kerouac. However O'Grady doesn't really deliver the goods. The book lacks momentum. As a novelist he must appreciate the importance of identifiable goals and obstacles in building up a story but it's not clear what O'Grady was actually searching for and there are certainly no pitfalls in the book as he cruises from one town or another. It ends up making the book very put-downable. Part of the problem is that he doesn't seem to have decided what sort of book he wanted to write. Was it to be a travelogue? An encyclopedia of interesting facts about America? An analysis of the health of the union? A series of encounters with interesting Americans? He's unsure which to plump for and so he makes it a bit of each of these and in doing so satisfies no-one. He never left me feeling that I was with him on the journey and this is partly because he tries to jam in so much information about each town he visits that it ends up reading like a 'Believe it or Not' entry. When he hits Tutwiler, for example, he manages to mention Elvis Prtesley's father, Son House, Bukka White, Mose Allison and federal judge William C. Keady all in one paragraph and then at the start of the next paragraph he's 'pulling back onto Highway 61' and we're into a description of bluesman Robert Johnson. There were times when I wondered why he bothered even visiting these places. He could have written most of this book by Google. The other thing that bugged me about Divine Magnetic Lands was the interviews. The language of each of his respondents sounds remarkably like the language of Timothy O'Grady. All character has been rinsed out of their speech. It doesn't matter whether it's a high flying lawyer or a redneck barman talking they all speak in colourless words with no idiosyncrasies. I suspect he used a notebook rather than a tape recorder and possibly even relied on his memory to reconstruct conversations. If O'Grady had been reporting Martin Luther King's great 1963 speech at the Washingtom Memorial it would come out something like: "It would be marvelous if everyone could live together regardless of race or religion," said Dr King. "I dream of this sometimes. I hope I live to see it become a reality." Divine Magnetic Lands was a great idea and provided O'Grady with a great all-expenses paid trip. It just the readers who have to suffer the normal discomforts of travel - prolonged periods of boredom, a craving for a pit stop and the ever present question "Are we there yet?"