Meghan Davison's Reviews > The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
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Sep 25, 2007

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Read in August, 2007

In a lot of ways, this is like most of Bryson’s other books. It’s a travel narrative in which he mocks just about every thing and every one he comes across, complete with Bryson’s characteristic zingers that elicit inappropriately loud chuckles—even if you are on a cramped airplane next to a man who says with his glare that he finds your laughing both creepy and disdainful. I speak from experience, it’s best to read Bryson alone, or at least somewhere where it’s appropriate to laugh. But there is also something different, inferior about this one. In most of Bryson’s other books, he picks on everyone he comes across, but his writing feels jovial and charming, not mean spirited. And he’s even willing to turn that wit around on himself—which is an easy task as he’s a portly and eccentric man. But all that’s missing from this book—he comes off as condescending and cruel, like a man who moved to England and returned to the US not to celebrate it but to prove how superior he has become. He especially loves to pick on women he runs across in small towns, who in Bryson’s eyes are always heavy, grumpy, and dragging half a dozen rude kids. As one who has just driven across the country, I appreciated how Bryson was able to so aptly capture some parts of the country (i.e. the sheer boredom of driving across Ohio, the pain of having to listen to Christian radio), but at times his writing also felt very artificial. Often he relies on stereotypes—the dopey diner waitress, the twangy southern woman. I’m pretty familiar with these stereotypes, why not use your 200 pages to tell me something about small town America that I don’t know? This is one of Bryson’s earlier books, and luckily he learns how to control his sarcasm, because his later books are real gems. If you’re going to read Bryson, I wouldn’t start with this one. The only thing worse than going on a disappointing road trip is reading about a guy going on a disappointing road trip. Towards the end of the book Bryson redeems himself: his humor becomes less cruel and more charming and he actually seems to enjoy himself and find a little Midwest pride. But it was too little too late for me to really love the book.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Eric Kelderman Hey, I'm glad to see that there's someone else who laughs out loud at Bill Bryson, although this happens to me when I read Dave Barry, Gene Weingarten and Roy Blount Jr. or when I'm listening to Garrison Keillor -- so maybe I'm just a sucker for that style of humor.

As a Des Moines native, I thought Bryson hit the nail on the head about our hometown: "Much as I resented having to grow up in Des Moines, it gave me a real appreciation for every place in the world that's not Des Moines."

Meghan Davison I'll have to take your word on Des Moines. I'm from Kansas, though, and I was just glad he spent his whole time there thinking about In Cold Blood so he couldn't say anything too derogatory about us Jayhawks.

Lisa I'm currently trying to finish this, though I don't know why.
I agree with your review for the most part; I continue to laugh out loud at his digs and swipes at my fellow 'Murricans (of the 80s anyway), yet am growing more annoyed. It's becoming apparent though, especially in his search for the fantasy town of "Amalgam", that his sarcasm and elitism mask a growing sadness/disappointment at the realization that while he was away in England we pretty much purposely destroyed towns like Amalgam in favor of a drive-in dystopia that is only now, in the mid-00s, coming back to bite us in the ass. He was also in his mid-30's, a time when many realize you can never go Home again...though he was probably only too happy to get back to Europe, where they still have real towns.

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