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American Nomad [Hardcover]

Steve Erickson


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Book Description

May 1997
Here is a brilliant novelist's road trip across the landscape of the national zeitgeist, all the way to the last election of the Millennium. Steve Erickson wanders the highways of a republic in revolt against itself and in search of its own meaning.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co (May 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805051554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805051551
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 17.8 x 24.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #911,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

This is the first non-fiction effort from novelist Erickson. It started as an assignment from Rolling Stone to cover the 1996 presidential election from start to finish but became something else when Erickson was fired by Jann Wenner after the New Hampshire primary. Erickson kept going, turning his on-the-road reportage into a vehicle for addressing--dare we say it?--his fear and loathing on the campaign trail of what the country was becoming. With Thompsonesque doses of hyperbole, rock music, painkillers, and booze, Erickson paints a picture of a nation on the brink of breaking away from its special heritage of law, fairness, and freedom.

From Library Journal

Erickson, the author of several great and near-great novels (e.g., Amnesiascope, LJ 5/15/96), scampered around the country during last year's presidential campaign, part of the time at the behest of Rolling Stone magazine, and produced this startling, novelistic cross between journalism and memoir. To Erickson, political common sense has become a chimera in a country in which advocacy substitutes for the search for truth, and the American landscape, as a new millennium approaches, is littered with the carcasses of utopian visionaries. Wonderful, brief portraits of Bob Dole, Phil Gramm, Christian pol Gary Bauer, and their brood comprise a picture of (mostly) venal men scrambling for power and influence, with sincere belief in the righteousness of their often-misguided thoughts and actions. As good in his way as Norman Mailer in Miami and the Siege of Chicago and Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, the nomadic Erickson is the reader's Virgil in a cross between the Inferno and "Hellzapoppin." A lament on American polity in the late 20th century and essential for romantic, weepy watchers of American life.
-?Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib. of New York
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Amazon.com: 2.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deeply concerned with the moral crisis in America Nov. 22 2000
By Orrin C. Judd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Just as Richard Ben Cramer managed to produce one of the great campaign books of all time, What It Takes : The Way to the White House, largely by ignoring the 1988 Presidential Campaign and focussing instead on the candidates themselves, Steve Erickson has written the best book on the 1996 campaign by focussing on the cultural moment in which it occurred, rather than on the tactical minutiae of the campaign itself. There are actually at least three books lurking between the covers of American Nomad. First, there is the extremely funny tale of how he came to write the book, which initially started out as an assignment for Rolling Stone. Second, there are extended riffs on topics that range from the novels of Philip K. Dick, to Olivers Stone's movies, to Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra, to a long bizarre comparison of Richard Nixon and the Mike Hammer of Kiss Me Deadly. Finally, there is the aforementioned discussion of the state of the Nation circa 1996, a time when we had come to almost casually accept such previously unthinkable events and conditions as the OJ verdict, abortion clinic bombings, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Olympic Park bombing, the repeated Unabomber attacks, a divided government led by the morally bankrupt Bill Clinton on one side and the equally corrupt Newt Gingrich on the other, and the approach of the millennium--all of them seeming to somehow indicate a country so deeply divided that the various sides were actually willing to go to war with one another. In Erickson's eyes these are all potential signs of the apocalyptic collapse of democracy.
The story of his work for Rolling Stone is a genuine hoot. The Californian Erickson, a successful young author in the Thomas Pynchon mold, was originally hired because, as the features editor told him, "What we want is a novelist who will write about the 1996 presidential campaign as though it were a novel." But even in his first meetings with the magazine's editor, Jann Wenner, he realized that he was expected to compete with the New York Times, despite the fact that he was not a professional reporter. The collision of his own and Wenner's expectations led to a series of amusing misunderstandings and confrontations over the ensuing months, with the author covering the interesting fringes of the Republican race and the fascinating but doomed candidates, while the magazine pushed for strategy, tactics, scoops and straightforward coverage of the Dole campaign. Erickson's account of these battles basically adds up to a drive by shooting in which his target is Wenner and the publisher's grandiose pretensions and limited understanding of politics. Meanwhile, Erickson had really vested himself in the story and when he was finally fired, simply decided:
...I would just go right on covering the campaign. I would get in my car with my bogus press badge and my bogus business cards and I would start driving, a bogus correspondent without portfolio, and I would write the story of the campaign the way I had wanted to in the beginning, and the way I had foolishly supposed in the beginning that I was being hired to do, but now armed with moonshine credentials and a surreptitious itinerary of my own making. And I would keep on driving out past L.A. and back into America and into the last years of the Twentieth Century, on one last rampage through the national asylum just to make one last observation, one last comment, or even to tell just one last lie, just as long as no one expected from me one last answer.
So, unemployed, uncredentialed, his marriage seemingly crumbling, Erickson continued along his own gonzo path.
Freed from the constraints and delusions of the Rolling Stone editors, Erickson liberally sprinkles this book with long digressive expositions on popular culture. Often they are really interesting and insightful, like the ones on Springsteen and Oliver Stone. Sometimes they are just as bewildering as they are fascinating, like imagining Richard Nixon as Mike Hammer. And sometimes they simply don't work at all, like an imagined world where the hostage rescue worked and Jimmy Carter won a second term. But, on balance, they do enliven the book and add more than they detract.
The real core of the book though is Erickson's attempt to understand what was happening in America at that moment, how the country had become so divided, with minorities--racial, religious, political, or whatever--questioning not just the ideas but the very legitimacy of their opponents. He correctly identifies, but I think fails to understand, the fundamental schizophrenia that had beset the American people : the sort of self-loathing that leads the electorate to demand the truth from candidates and then punish them when they give it (a la Bob Dole in '88 or Tsongas in '92); that takes a hostile view of all special interest groups, except for those that each of us belong to; that rages against duplicitous politicians--like Clinton--then turns around and elects them. Here Erickson's strongly stated but weakly held liberal viewpoint betrays him somewhat. He is unable to dot the final 'i' and cross the final 't'. The problem with modern America is that we continue to believe in our Founding myths--rugged individualism, self-reliance, democracy, freedom, etc.--but have become a country of dependents, relying on government programs that range from farm subsidies to welfare to school loans to social security. The dissonance that Erickson correctly perceives arises from the battle between American ideals and desires. Thus in a moment of almost insane idealism the electorate chose a Republican Congress in 1994, hell bent on reducing government. But as soon as Democrats demagogued a few middle class entitlement cuts, that some electorate turned on Congress with a vengeance and embraced Bill Clinton, defender of the welfare state. It is not that our original ideals are somehow bankrupt, as Erickson intimates, but rather that they have been temporarily (one hopes) swamped by selfishness and greed. The 20th Century legacy of Depression, World War, Cold War, and inflation left behind them a people who were understandably a little shaken up and unfortunately too willing to draw their renewed confidence from government. We must inevitably disappoint ourselves when we continue to believe in a free society, but increasingly accept the controls and strictures of big government. How can the public help but loathe the politicians who keep buying their votes with ever greater social spending bribes? How can the public help but hate itself for being bought? The dichotomy Erickson discerns will continue until we actually return to first principles and return to the minimalist government which has been a historic norm. The author comes close to nailing this idea, but somehow misses, presumably for ideological reasons.
On the other hand, Erickson is excellent when he's most honest with himself and with the reader, even at the risk of offending his political fellow travelers and his own sense of himself as a liberal. For instance, he does little to hide his contempt for Bill Clinton. He finds partial birth abortion repellent. He writes compellingly about the debasing of American culture and about the hypocrisy of a generation that maintained that Rock and Roll would change the world, now arguing that pop culture has no effect on kids' moral development. He provides wonderful portraits of the men he met whose intellectual honesty and whose true convictions impressed him--Alan Keyes, Pat Buchanan and Gary Bauer. All of this seems to reflect a man who is much more ambivalent about his own professed liberalism than even he realizes.
At one point, Bauer says that he'd even vote for Erickson over Clinton and the author hastens to assures him that would be a mistake, as if he would make Clinton look like a conservative. But, in fact, over the course of the book the author emerges as someone who is deeply concerned with the moral crisis in America and as someone who has considered most issues before adopting positions on them. I, for one, would prefer to see someone like him, someone who actually has some core values and beliefs, run for president, than many of the poll driven, risk averse, weasly twerps who run now. He makes for an engaging and often funny guide to an election that ultimately left a bitter taste in everyone's' mouth and which did nothing to resolve the divergence between our dreams of freedom and our dependence on handouts. We can only hope that an equally agreeable observer is chronicling this election and that this time the story will have a happier ending.
GRADE: A
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but horribly flawed Jan. 22 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I like Steve Erickson -- I've read at least two of his novels and some of his magazine writing -- but American Nomad left me cold.
While Erickson is better than almost anyone at conveying the soul-searching impotence of being alive in the 1990's, this book is surprisingly thin gruel. Witness, for example, how interchangeable section of the book are. Flip it open anywhere and you could be anywhere, the same somewhat overwrought Ericksonian prose, full of loss and pain and anguish, but surprisingly ... well, boring.
Erickson's book is too precious by far. It takes the worst parts of his style, on display in any of his novels, this sort of aimless, high-style, like Cheech Marin after a few semesters at Juilliard. But in its manneredness it becomes frustrating, and then plain annoying.
To be honest, I think Wenner did the right thing. Canning Erickson wasn't a bad decision, despite the wails of the artistes out there. This simply wasn't interesting campaign coverage, novelist or no novelist.
Read Michael Lewis's "Trail Fever" on the 1996 elections, or read the bravura "What it Takes" on the 1988 elections, or, if you're so inclined, go right back to Hunter Thompson "Fear and Loathing '72" or even White's books from the 1960's.
But Erickson's book is just mannered writing by an uninvolved novelist-cum-journalist who here writes like one of those disturbingly self-obsessed characters you see dressed in back and loitering in the Starbucks of your choice.
P.
2.0 out of 5 stars Fearlessly boring Nov. 17 2013
By Jeff Commissaris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Although this book has its moments, overall it left me high and dry- too much of the subject matter was dull. It seems that some of erickson's other work is more on point so I will give it a try.

This book takes a different approach to viewing the political climate of the nineties.
0 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars just another logic-less leftist defence of Bill Clinton. Feb. 15 1999
By cvrlrb@aol.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
AHA! Another 'before the impeachment' analysis of the Clinton administration. I am always amazed by anachronisms such as the tenacious 60's cocktail-party intellectualism that still ostentaciously flaunts itself while this man remains in power. It was interesting that Mr. Ericsson reveals he hesitated voting for Clinton for a brief moment because of the possibility of throwing the nation in to another Nixonesque crisis of Constitutional proportions. I'd be curious to read his thoughts now, post-impeachment. My impression,by reading his book, is that Mr. Ericsson is obviously vieing for an apologist position somewhere on the fringe (since he seems to have been excluded from the outer-wings let alone the inner circle) of the Democratic party apparatus. So I would assume he is well versed in the 'Big Lie' that it was 'only about sex'...and that the rule of law is merely a tool to be discarded when it interferes with the goals and ideology of the 'mendacious left'. All in all, there is not much new or interesting here (actually, this material became quite dated the day after the 1996 election), except for true political 'nomads' like myself...who, I might add, by definition, would never identify with ANY political party, let alone become a drooling minion of the 'Cult of Clinton'.

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