Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town's Fight to Survive Paperback – 1 Jan 1900
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"A small masterpiece...Kauffman is a romantic reactionary, a writer with an odd, energetic optimism." --Gore Vidal
"There is myth and poetry in this refreshing look at a town....Kauffman is one of the most original journalistic voices in America today." --Richmond Times-Dispatch
"An acerbically sentimental account of [Kauffman's] experience that reveals both his fascination and frustration with small-town life." --Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)
"Those born in a small town will know what he means and probably envy him for having had the gumption to go back home." --The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Bill Kauffman has written for The Independent in London and The Wall Street Journal. Although Batavia remains his psychic home, he now resides five miles away in Elba, New York.
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Where this book is strong, it is fantastic. Kauffman is the president of his county's historical society (I have recently gotten into the local historical societies in my town and county- wonderful groups! find yours!) and this book is really just that- a history of the people of his city. This book is the biography of a town- a town that may have tried to kill itself, and continues to do so- but a town worth knowing.
This isn't Kauffman at his best- (I'm partial to Look Homeward, America) - but it is a great look at a fascinating town, by someone who knows it well, and loves it.
Growing up in Batavia, NY, a small-but-unique western NY town, Kauffman sees the city (as the locals call it) start to willfully give up its grand architecture and history with 1960s urban renewal, then moves away to Washington DC and Los Angeles in the 1980s, and finally returns there to live, finding the place essentially homogenized into blandness and deterioration. Nonetheless, he and several hearty locals of several generations fight to preserve what's left and maintain it as somewhere worth living.
In this, the story of his hometown that he loves so much, we meet multitudes of memorable characters, good and bad: The Cadillac-driving Monsignor whose will titillated from the grave. The self-important dentist who wouldn't mind hearing "Hail to the Chief" at the legislature meetings over which he presides, and who is quick to name-drop that as an admiral in the Naval Reserve during the Gulf War (in which he served as a dentist), he met Colin Powell. The local madam and philanthropist whose Catholic burial scandalized the town. The dedicated and heroic Congressman who serves the region with distinction, becomes President of the World Bank, and returns home to man the cashbox at the local historical society fundraisers. The tortured novelist who dies before his time, under-appreciated in the place of his birth. The "good Joe" men and women who sit with the author along the third base line at the games of the hometown Muckdogs (the minor league baseball team from which the book's name is derived).
This book is about Batavia, NY but could be about any town low on the radar screen. It's clearly a love letter from the author to his flawed paramour, and though it's tough to give five stars to something so intimate and personal, that is what I must do.
It won't be for everyone. Big city dwellers and "keep up with the Joneses" suburbanites might not understand why someone would give up the bright lights and fast track of the big city to return to the sticks and forge a unique identity. Parts of the book, especially the first 40 pages, drag down in references to obscure authors and historical minutiae. Ample gratuitous profanity and casual use of every ethnic and racial slur imaginable (but sparing no one, including frequent barbs at those sharing Kauffman's German and Italian ancestry) may give vapors to the sensitive.
But readers willing to tolerate the above will find "Muckdog Gazette" to be a challenging read that amply rewards those who are up to its challenge. The author clearly burned lots of shoe leather in researching this book (instead of just relating his own personal experiences), and does an excellent job telling his stories. There are plenty of chuckles, plenty of breathless belly laughs, plenty of moments of real inspiration. Batavia is fortunate to have Bill Kauffman. Kauffman is fortunate to have Batavia. We - and they - are fortunate to have this book.
Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town's Fight to Survive is a sincere portrait of a real, compassionate small town (Batavia) in a really big, uncaring state. Kaufman skillfully spins yarns of Batavia residents and the surrounding Genesee County and allows the reader—through painting pictures with his thousand words—to look through a gorgeously described verbal photo album of a gone-by era in small town America. And while William Kennedy will often change the names to protect the innocent (if there are such people in Albany) Bill Kaufman unashamedly writes about the area’s residents as if they were his friends. While many are, the relationship he would have with the Richmonds (Batavia’s Carnegie) and John Gardner (Batavia’s Charles Dickens) would be separated by the ages, yet they come alive as only a skilled historian can.
This book truly is a love story for his family of “placists”—a word Kaufman uses for people like him, who reject the notion that to be successful they have to leave their hometown. “He’s really going places,” is the lie the world has created to make sure roots are dug up and forgotten so that families can be divided and small town America conquered by the heartless politicians and shortsighted urban renewal dogs.
Just like when you can bad mouth and cut down the person you are dating and still love that person with all your heart (and heaven forbid anyone else should say anything bad about the one you love) Kaufman also shows the seedy side of the land he loves. He recognizes the faults, and loves her never the less. Bill is honest and not blinded by nostalgia.
This book was a joy to read and will stick in your mind and heart like any great book you’ve read before. Buy it and find a new facet of small town America on every turn of the page.