Lost in America

Lost in America : A Dead-End Journey

3.6 (118 ratings by Goodreads)
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Colby Buzzell has always been a loner. An autodidact who never went to college, he was dubbed "the voice of a generation" by Robert Kurson for his daring and critically acclaimed book, "My War: Killing Time in Iraq." Half a decade later, overwhelmed by the birth of his son and the death of his mother, Buzzell finds himself rudderless. Desperate to escape the constraints of his postwar existence, he packs his things, gets in the car, and, for five months, drives across America--no map, no destination. In his 1965 Mercury Comet, Buzzell travels through the bowels of a country steeped in economic turmoil and political malaise. With a bottle of whisky in one hand and a pack of cigarettes in the other, he takes us on a tour of big-box stores, grimy gas stations, abandoned warehouses, strip clubs, and flophouses. He captures the distinct voices and vivid stories of a forgotten America--Cheyenne, Omaha, Salt Lake City, Des Moines, Detroit, and San Francisco's Tenderloin. Buzzell unearths America's bones in all their beauty and starkness. And like the veterans of Hemingway's Lost Generation, he struggles to reconcile his wanderlust with his responsibilities as a man and a father. "Lost in America" is a stunning account of the ravages of war on one individual. It also reveals deep truths about a more universal journey: the struggle to find our place in the world--without a map.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 304 pages
  • 148 x 212 x 32mm | 458.13g
  • HarperCollins Publishers Inc
  • HarperCollins
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0061841358
  • 9780061841354

Review quote

"A witty, fearless, sharp-eyed chronicler of America in decline. Buzzell exhibits a Henry Miller-like talent for the memorable character sketch."--Kirkus Reviews
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Rating details

118 ratings
3.6 out of 5 stars
5 22% (26)
4 35% (41)
3 29% (34)
2 10% (12)
1 4% (5)

Our customer reviews

Colby Buzzell, wittingly or not, has not only crafted a lasting piece of work, he\'s also succeeded in setting a brilliantly disguised snare in which even advanced readers will be trapped. Let the simple high school book report regurgitations begin! From the reviews of Lost in America that I\'ve read to date, not a single person has escaped that deadly snare which is, without cunning, hidden in plain sight. He offers the casual reader nothing but starkly naked self-deprecating truths which are irresistible bait ... as in a bait car ... the kind the police use to trap dimwitted thieves. He even commits a technical sin right at the book's outset by telling the hapless what they are about to be told ... and why .... then, amazingly, they (based upon the reviews thus far I've read) actually believe that's what the story is all about. They (reviewers) seem to believe that they also actually understand Buzzell (makes me chuckle) and might have even wondered to themselves why they were reading what painfully seems to be nothing more than an unremarkable discovery journal of yet another barfly with writer's itch. Several reviewers I noticed followed that second blind path. For crying out loud, he even tells you it's a dead end journey right in the title and you still didn't get it. Here\'s a hint ... once you think the work is about him, or mimicking Kerouac, or his unpolished skills, or his near trance inducing laconic style, or his excessive drinking or obsession with seedy hotels and cigarettes or vintage anything or even his dark fascination with fill-in-the-blank underbelly of wherever ... you\'ve been snared and the book really has no further use of you. If you'll recall when he casually flicks his cigarette ash on the carpet while enjoying some wine straight from the bottle in his dirtbag hotel room ... that's his opinion of your perspective. Granted, he would probably be much kinder about telling you such. Concisely, this true tale well told can be summed up in a single word: deception. And the elimination thereof. More specifically ... self deception at the individual level as well as the collective ... families, groups, races, communities and most startling ... as a nation. You're all in denial to one extent or another and nowhere near as brave as you should be about confronting your own frailty and failures. Disgree? Who in the hell among you has the will to drive U.S. 50 alone ... through the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, for mile upon tedious mile piloting a 45 year old original unrestored condition Mercury not even knowing when it will break down next or where the next gas station might be let alone whether or not the person sitting behind the wheel of the next set of headlights that comes up behind you might be a serial killer. Quite frankly, you don't have the balls to do it ... nor the courage to be ultimately real about who you are and why. Like most of us, you deceive. You deceive yourself and you deceive others around you. You closet your failures and hide your frailties and shun the less fortunate. You run from the problem, not toward the solution. You wrap yourself in the high R value insulation of deception. Let's face it, you're not even you anymore ... just something or someone that you pass off as you more often than not. Genuine article ... my ass. America the beautiful ? America the Superpower? You've screwed those up too. You think Buzzell is a screw up? Think again sport, and this time, actually read the book. Buzzell shows you how it's done .... stripping you of your ever growing menagerie of mascara, hair mousse, photoshopped pictures, fake facebook friends, teeth whiteners, your new Prius, your diploma (insert alma mater of distinction here) your (insert impressive inch size here) flatscreen TV that you got on sale at Walmart (or some other soulless big box store), your latest (please don't bore us with the pictures) vacation, whatever. You're such a phony. Using himself as the foil, he disturbingly reveals your core undeniable weaknesses. His alcohol problem is your shopping problem, or porn problem, or you name it problem. You want to escape, but cannot. He wanted to escape too. Beginning to get it? The only solution you have is to continue the adventure even though you know it's in large part just a charade ... a dead-end journey. His wanderlust my ass ... it's your wanderlust and you've always had it. His indulgences? I think not, they're yours and you've always had them ... you just don't have the nerve to put them on display and deal with them. His unadulterated self-deprecation is genuine and dazzlingly unique. More genuine than perhaps you've ever been, even momentarily, in your entire life, even with yourself. It's mundane, in parts, because you are ... everyone is now and then, if not mostly. Crushingly real. In fact, this book is the equivalent of what reality TV would be ... if it were actually real, or interesting, or redeeming. Ready for more reality? No problem. Most adults are primarily fear based motivated. Deterrence is very powerful and risk mitigation makes the world go around. Fundamentally, it's game theoretical in that you're strategically incentivized to mitigate risk in response to ever present fears. The beauty of his character, who fortunately or unfortunately for you is not a fictional one, is that he is the exception. He doesn't have the fear of exposure and is riddled with flaws. He isn't necessarily sharing his flaws, he's helping you discover and understand yours. When that bird hits his windshield in the book ... that was the person that you refused to help even though you should have. When he stands alone as a stranger at a backyard party in a Detroit neighborhood where revival is underway ... that's you who snubbed him, you pompous self-absorbed *******. When he expertly mocks the Columbia School of Journalism graduates at the Time Magazine\'s Green Zone (what a joke, who reads that drivel) house, his magnifying glass of truth has you and your practically worthless college degree in (fill in your college major here please) from wherever (because they\'re all diploma mills now - only the few escape with a real education and a corresponding degree of merit that might be useful to a nation in atrophy) squarely upon you. Sure, your parents are proud of you, but they also congratulated you the first time you successfully took a sh*t. Layer upon layer, one seemingly innocuous scene after another, he flays the human psyche wide open, refusing to blush. Only once does he himself turn away, when looking at his own reflection in a dark BART tunnel after privately grieving to his now dead and thus silent mother. His secret shame at that moment is a shame you've felt. Say you haven't and you're either a liar or a fool ... or both. His mother is everyone's beloved mother ... or should be. Her broken English advice is simple, timeless and undeniable. Veritable pearls cast before you know-it-all swine. Dammit, if only Buzzell had listened ... if only you were listening now. He offers more unassailable kernels of truth .... such as Middle Easterner shopkeepers who (accustomed to violent conflict as a daily way of life) have come to Detroit and will only work behind protective glass as juxtapositioned against an aging white couple (the Harrington's) who run a shabby inner city hotel in crime central and consider it an insult to themselves and those around them to do the same (protective glass) even though they've been mugged and beaten several times. Go ahead, we're all American ... you take your pick. Who are you? Chicken ****. Pick any chapter and you'll find yourself, if you dare. Go ahead, read the chapter on Unsuccessful Men with Talent and tell yourself that the content doesn't parallel your own life at some point at one time or another. Yeah right ... you coulda' been a contender. So, you selfish and lazy little bitch/prick, do you really want to know how badly we're screwing each other while insisting we're not the problem and that somebody needs to fix this mess we're in here in America? OK, here you go. Try chapter sixteen, Sunday Stripper. It's no secret that heterosexual men dig women and will always look at nude or semi-nude women ... even ugly ones. Women and alcohol ... think cocktail. Buzzell was there (strip club) for the only reason anyone goes to a strip club. Get real, it\'s the same reason you or your husband/boyfriend does. Because he (Buzzell) is your husband/boyfriend, he offers an incredibly lame excuse for being there that he thinks is plausible .... which of course, is not. More strikingly, he offers the instant classic line "It was like they all (the strippers) had given up on trying to get money from the men, and the men had given up in giving a ****". Jesus H ... men were born to look at and pay for (we all pay for it one way or another) it. Hopes and dreams pulverized into granules too tiny to reconstruct. We're that pathetic ... we're all wrapped so tight right now, captivated by fear, waiting for the media to buzz us with the next round of OMG doom. I\'m guessing you don\'t tip very well and if you do still donate to charity, it's probably only when other people are sure to notice and in no instance will you help a person of color ... directly anyway. Oh, and let me guess, you've read enough local newspaper articles to know when a panhandler doesn't really need the money. As for homeless or at-risk vets, you totally suck. They earned your freedom, many died for it, and you have never reciprocated sufficiently. You got yours. I hear you loud and clear brother. F-you. Seriously smart readers will someday "get" this book and when they do, legions of Wayfarer wearing wannabes will venture forth to breathe in Buzzell's smoky essence in places like the *** & Go gas station in Cheyenne and the Park Avenue Hotel in Detroit and elsewhere. With any luck, he'll ignore every urge to revisit the landscape he's so deftly captured. Its stark simplicity is its splendor and it stands as a perfect post-modern reflection of an imperfect America disintegrating before our very own eyes ... and at our very own hands. His fantasy escape is like most all others ... usually not an effective strategy, but an alluring form of self-deception. Homer created the category with Odysseus a few thousand years back. Conveniently, the name Odysseus is greek for trouble and Buzzell is extremely faithful in trying to find such at every possible turn of his journey. Roadtrips are an excuse, a vehicle, .... its a deceptively (wink) simple premise. My dear political friends, that includes Mr. Barack Obama and his country criss-crossing, campaign barnstorming, town halling road trip that touted the miracle elixir of change. Get real, you knew it was a stretch. He was the safe, unoffensive, smart one even if he is a little haughty. Ah yes, risk aversion, that sounds familiar. It's not his fault, it's yours. You bought it, then you fought it noting that it\'s pretty clear nobody was going to come out a winner regardless of who was elected. Seriously, being the President is difficult under the best of conditions. Without rancor though, Buzzell lets us know that even coal black Detroit isn't buying the Obama snakeoil anymore which is good news because the Motor City, at least according to the book by Buzzell that I read, is moving on ... no longer in denial or begging for a handout. We all need to move on. The Detroit in the book that I read is not a desolate wasteland. It's picking itself off the canvas, wielding self-reliance, threatening the spectre of despair with person by person determination and savvy resourcefulness. A body doesn't recover from blows like Detroit took quickly. They won't be down forever, not that sweat, not that muscle, not that American pride. Those people work, they need to be led, but they will wear the yoke. Detroit is nothing if not our call of duty. The great American story has always been that there is another shot, a comeback, a chance at redemption, a new start. Like any 12 step or self-improvement program, you've got to get past the deception first, then you've got to put some skin in the game. A gritty and dark brooding tale of a boozing loser frequenting flophouses who ends up in a rundown rustbelt town? ... maybe to a Time Magazine reader. The book that I read is a two-way mirror with a polarized film coating to block out all of your double secret bullshit rationalizations. You just need to step around to the other side and see what the naked truth really looks like ... if you think you can handle it. If so, smile, perhaps there is hope for you yet.show more
by Robert Costa
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