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Almost Heaven: Travels Through the Backwoods of America Paperback – 1 Apr 1999
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Surprising, entertaining and original (SUNDAY TIMES)
A gourmet's guide to the boondocks (INDEPENDENT)
Sharply detailed and warmly insightful ... fascinating and consistently enlightening, wonderfully funny and unbelievably true (TIME OUT)
A well-observed, warm-hearted travelogue, with plenty of good humour and a cast of amazing characters (TLS)
*A fresh, fast-paced and humorous look at 'hidden' America.See all Product description
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The Times correspondent in Washington finishes his stint in the capital and plans a trip to smalltown America, off the beaten track, wanting to portray the population from small towns in contrast to the portrait of urban America we see on TV and films. Starts from Washington and works his way south, then west. In fact the choice is very significant because the author's intent is not to ramble, recording what he sees - rather it is to visit small towns and similar places to see where weird or grizzly events took place. So we get a tour of smalltown America in terms of Klu Klux Klan, bear-hunting, moonshine distilling, a snake-handling church, hill-billy feuds, cock-fighting. No cliché is left unexplored.
After claiming he wanted to get away from the urban view of smalltown America, the author actually chooses his route seemingly based on (urban) newspaper reports of smalltown America as a freak show. He's not in the slightest bit interested in chatting to ordinary people in shops, only in one story he has pre-selected in Washington about the place.
He simply can't escape the journalistic style. It's as though an American came to Britain and reported London in terms of Jack the Ripper or went to Bradford to find the maddest Muslim mosque or Glasgow in terms of the most insane Rangers and Celtic fans. It's not especially informing or entertaining.
What really made me dislike the author, though, was that he provides no evidence at all of any affection for places he visits. He only talks to ordinary people to find out about the freakshow event in their community, often things they are trying to forget from decades before.
To return to those very positive other reviews, the most accurate said, "Whether it's a fair picture, I very much doubt. Martin Fletcher is a professional journalist and it shows. He's always ready to sense a cover-up, ascribe bad faith, dig the dirt, and he writes from a metropolitan liberal viewpoint. It reads as a series of interviews, there's not that much about the travelling experience ..." but the reviewer goes on to give to 5 stars.
There is a great book to be written on the project Fletcher planned, maybe it already has been written. This book isn't it and I thought it ended up saying more about the author and British journalism than smalltown America.
It's an easy read and gives a glimpse of a side of America that you won't come across in your holiday road trip down Route 66. On the other hand, I had the impression that this wasn't a long trip that the author took, and resultantly some of the impressions are quite fleeting. He seems to drive up to a place, consult the bit of previous research he's jotted in his notebook, speak to a few locals and then move on to the next town on his list. It's interesting, but not as engaging as it could be.
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