I went into this book expecting something rather different from what it actually is, but came out the other end much happier for having read it than II went into this book expecting something rather different from what it actually is, but came out the other end much happier for having read it than I expected to be.
Unlike the new paperback's cover of a beer-swilling dumb-looking white guy might suggest, this book is not actually about "regular" American dudes and their lives in the way that our stereotype suggests. Rather, the material that LeDuff chooses works effectively to support the argument that he sets up at the beginning in a rhetorical way: there is a certain unrealistic image of what American men are and should be, and this image does not exist in reality as any one man.
Again, I expected LeDuff to focus more on how the men (and women) that he talks to, and writes about and thinks about, do or don't live up to that unrealistic image that he eloquently describes at the outset. He doesn't do this much at all, in fact. Instead, he focuses in a totally engaging and empathetic way on the people themselves, on what I'd call the weird of America. In this way, and also in the way of his wording, he reminded me strongly of Hunter Thompson, but as a person he is quite different and I don't mean to suggest that he's simply a derivative or pale imitation of Thompson. But if you like the latter, you will like this book.
What sticks with me most profoundly was, in fact, LeDuff's unceasing sensitivity and his empathy for the people around him, his willingness to reexamine himself while also looking at what's in front of his face. His confrontation of a participant in a battle reenactment, and his frustrated aside about the inherent value and worth of individual life in the chapter on Detroit, still stand out to me as moments when something clicked: yeah, this guy is all right.
I've heard an interview with him on the radio, and I remember thinking then, "this guy is really good at dealing with people, at getting people to think he is on their side, getting people to like him and feel comfortable with him." Reading this book afterward, I realize that this is why he is able to do what he does. And through reading the book, it worked on me too.
The only shortcoming of this book for me was the feeling that some of the chapters weren't quite as long or compelling as the really great ones. But this could also have been my being in a reading mood with some of them, and tired or distracted with others. Even in the weaker chapters, there was always something compelling that kept me wanting to read more....more