What does it mean when a nation accustomed to constant motion begins to settle down; when political bloodsport threatens unity; when a pandemic strikes, and when racial hierarchies are challenged after years of abuses? Is our shared soil enough to reinvigorate a troubled national spirit?
By turns nostalgic and probing, incisive and enraged, Zoellner’s journeys across the United States — and into our contradictory histories — reveal a nation divided by faith, politics, and shifting economics, but one united by a shared stake in the common land. This is both a celebration and a reckoning.
“Zoellner exposes naiveté, foolishness, and malfeasance with equal clarity, but he is evenhanded and sometimes produces a piece of sardonic humor, haunting beauty, or melancholy that pulsates on the page.” — Kirkus Reviews
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Into the car and away; away to the next valley over the ridge, away to the next town, the next exit, the unknown lump of color around the turn in the road just out of sight, forever leading and receding. Into the car, into the country. Here is where I feel most at ease, and have since the age of majority: when I am propped upright and relaxed at the wheel and the country spinning along outside the windows.
There is little I love more than the spell of motorized land journey, a languorous day, a vague forward-looking destination in mind and a full tank of gas. If there is an opportunity to fly, I will not take it unless the schedule makes it mandatory. I have crossed and recrossed the breadth of the United States alone, more or less coast-to-coast, at least thirty times in the course of twenty years, and made hundreds of lesser partial crossings, making exhaust contrails across all 48 contiguous lower states in the bargain, feeling some unspecified hunger to lay down a coat of invisible paint.
Ours is a nation into which motion and migrations and impatience are written into the fibers: the Congregational hegira to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and then into the inviting Hawthornian forest; the miserable commercially-driven relocation of Africans to the cane fields of the South; the spreading of railroad knuckles between cities eager for trade and exploitation; the continuing flow of low-paid workers across the desert borders; the lusty job-chasing that keeps – according to the U.S. Census Bureau – approximately 14 percent of the population engaged in at least one move every year across a land, making us all, in the words of a British character in a Tom Wolfe novel “hopeless children whom Providence had perversely provided with this great swollen fat fowl of a continent.” All that country means all that driving. Horizon plus time: an exultant combination.