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America Was Hard To Find

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  206 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Ecuador, 1969: An American expatriate, Fay Fern, sits in the corner of a restaurant, she and her young son Wright turned away from the television where Vincent Kahn becomes the first man to walk on the moon.

Years earlier, Fay and Vincent meet at a pilots’ bar in the Mojave Desert. Both seemed poised for reinvention—the married test pilot, Vincent, as an astronaut; the
Kindle Edition, 432 pages
Published May 14th 2019 by Ecco
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Average rating 3.64  · 
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Melissa Crytzer Fry
Aug 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book! Oh my goodness. I will never understand why it did not get the publicity and marketing support it deserved. I will go back and read this author’s first and second books – her writing is that spectacular!

About the book… How timely was this novel? It was published on May 14, and the anniversary of the Apollo 11 Mission was July 20, 1969 – 50 years ago. One of the main characters is a fictitious NASA astronaut who took the first step on the moon. So, there’s that bit of timeliness.

Lark Benobi
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: she-2019, 2019
I heartily and sincerely recommend this novel for those who loved Fates and Furies, or who love the novels of Michael Ondaatje.

While these authors don't superficially resemble one another much, to me they all seem to share a Proustian-like interest in paying rapt attention to every quotidian thing that happens along the way to telling their story. To me they're "crème brûlée, crème brûlée! Let's have the same dessert every day!" kinds of writers. Each and every sentence is so rich and creamy
Lyn Caglio
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a very different novel. I really don’t know how to even begin to review it, except to say that the writing was beautiful and I came away from reading this with an extreme sense of sadness about our country. Maybe it’s just the state of America right now and my personal view of it.
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love a good sprawling novel, one that swings for the fences -- perhaps even more so when it doesn't quite get there. There's something to be said for ambition, especially when so much of the book is so wonderful, and Alcott really makes it into orbit several times with this one. The first section is superb, all dry-heat and summer sun, the thrill of scientific progress mixed with the thrill of sex. And just about any time Vincent ends up back on the page, later in the novel, I was transfixed. ...more
Aug 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Alcott writes a pretty sentence but her storytelling leaves so much unsaid that the main character remains an enigma.
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, abandoned
Lots of storylines, lots of locations, lots of perspectives. Lots of incomplete stories that collectively did not add up to something worth finishing. I rarely quit a book, especially book with alternate history, but this one I gave up on 2/3rds of the way through. There are so many good books out there to read, and at this time in my life, I want to read what is good, not what leaves many readers scratching their heads for a long time after.

She is a beautiful writer with a sure grasp of
James Beggarly
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A bartender and an Air Force test pilot have a brief and intense affair and then go their separate ways. He goes on to be an astronaut and the first man to walk on the moon. She becomes one of the most wanted radical, a part of a group that sets off homemade bombs to protest the war in Vietnam. This is an amazing novel of alternate history. The story and characters are so rich and intriguing. This is the third novel I’ve read by this author and each one is slightly better than the one before. ...more
Tonstant Weader
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
What drives people to achieve greatness or infamy? In America Was Hard to Find, Kathleen Alcott tells the story of a brief love affair and the child who resulted. It beings in the late Fifties where Vincent Kahn, a married jet pilot marking time while hoping to join the space program has an affair with a young woman named Fay Wren. Fay does not tell him she is pregnant, aware of the harm they have done Vincent’s wife and, perhaps, realizing how unworthy he is. Strangely both of them will become ...more
Oct 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Rare to see a book reach so audaciously for the epic while maintaining its toeholds in the crevices of details with nary a misstep. One of the year's best for me without a doubt.
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
i ended up LOVING parts of this -- the writing was so lush that I just felt drawn in and didn't want to stop. it's an ambitious novel and i think parts of it don't quite work because the text is so withholding about its characters. in particular i think the pieces about write and fay's time in the us part of the revolutionary group feel a little flat, whereas vincent, despite being a more distant character, feels more realized. it took me over a month to read the first fifty pages and once i ...more
Sam Glatt
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Indeed the sprawling epic that it is described as, Alcott takes us through multiple fundamental decades in American history and navigates fictionalized historical events as a means to explore how the makeup and construction of America will destroy those in it until they are damaged enough to return the favor. Her sentences are like electric fire, always alive.

I admittedly did not care for "Book Three" (and felt the narrative shift of the letters didn't serve to the strengths of the rest of the
Chris Wharton
Very nice treatment of three eventful American decades. Think of some American writers of the 1960s to ‘80s—Didion, Mailer, Wolfe, DeLillo—and more recent ones—Rachel Kushner, Nathan Hill, Rebecca Makkai, and most lately Salvatore Scibona—and their topics—1960s California, the space program, Vietnam, the counterculture, the violent radical left, AIDS—and here’s a work to join them. Imagine a plot involving a fictional first astronaut to walk on the moon, a fictional rebellious heiress, and their ...more
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The last third of the book lost me a bit, but overall this was ambitious and interesting.
Chris Roberts
Sep 05, 2019 rated it did not like it
Contrived, tries too hard - ugh. Another dime store novel - ugh-ugh.

Add poem (here):

A profound sense of isolation,
stems from the knowledge we are alone inside our heads,
archangels drift overdose.


Chris Roberts, God All Over You
Dec 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
“It is not always possible to tell the exact moment you have separated from the earth. So much of what we know for certain is irrelevant by the time we know it.”
Lindsay Hunter
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I wish I could give this more stars. It is incredible. Every sentence.
Leigh Anne
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My review of this book appears in the 6/23/19 print edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. At the moment, it does not appear to be on their website, so let me just quote myself, briefly:

"One thoughtful novel can't unpack all of America's generational damage, but Alcott's story is a good step in the right direction. If America is hard to find, maybe it's because we're not really looking" (pg E-6).
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received a free Uncorrected Proof copy of this book from the Goodreads Giveaways program and am thankful to anyone who made that possible.

This novel follows the lives of two very different people who briefly intersect and the child that springs from this intersection and explores how people are shaped by their pasts and where/what they came from. The writing style took me some time to warm up to but once I fell into it, I was all in.

My only complaint was the ambiguity in (view spoiler)
Jun 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
I really tried to get into this story, but after the first half I decided to not spend another minute with it. It was OK, but not something I really liked. The time period and setting , 1960’s during astronaut training in the Mojave desert, were interesting, but I felt the characters just weren’t likable, and it was hard to understand their motivation. I just didn’t relate to them.
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways, ecco
Title: America Was Hard to Find

Author: Kathleen Alcott

Age Group: Adult

Genre: Historical Fiction

Series: Standalone

Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I received a copy of this book in a First Reads contest giveaway—my thanks to Goodreads and Ecco Publishers!

I won this book as a prize in a First Reads giveaway, and I’ve been winning so many books recently that I’m trying to coordinate them by the month so as to line them up close to their actual publication dates. America Was Hard to Find was the first
Fran Hawthorne
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Yes, this novel is a page-turner but much more: The details and language are remarkable, hitting you with every sense, from the smells of kerosene and rosewater, to the tufts of stuffing peeking out from a torn winter parka.

Near an Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert in 1959, strong, silent, sexy pilot Vincent Kahn and rich girl-turned-vague rebel Fay Fern have a brief affair. Then Vincent goes on to become the first man to walk on the moon, while Fay abandons her family, lives in Ecuador for a
Oct 10, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a story of intersecting lives—drawn from real life events (Apollo 11moon landing, civil unrest and anti Vietnam War demonstrations, the violent Weather Underground actions, the “Aids Crisis” in a San Francisco and across the nation in the 1980s and the government’s refusal to do anything about it and even the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster). Alcott creates a tale in which the first man on the moon has an affair with a Patty Hearst-like character (running away from her affluent parents ...more
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
I stole this from another review - by Lark Benobi -

" I heartily and sincerely recommend this novel for those who loved Fates and Furies, or who love the novels of Michael Ondaatje.

While these authors don't superficially resemble one another much, to me they all seem to share a Proustian-like interest in paying rapt attention to every quotidian thing that happens along the way to telling their story. "

I know it doesn't require quotation marks but I can’t figure out how to change the font. I
Aug 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
An ambitious effort to look at America between the fifties and the nineties through the lenses of antiwar activism (transparently echoing the SDS to investigate relationships between affluence and radicalism), space exploration (and the stereotypically strong-silent-hero mythology around astronauts), and youthful coming of age as a gay man in the age of AIDS. Phew! Generally Alcott succeeds in crafting a unified story, though the echoes of historical events and other writers' worlds (from the ...more
Jan 04, 2020 rated it liked it
The subject matter seemed perfect: Vincent, a married test pilot, meets Fay at a bar in the Mojave Desert in the 1960s. Fay gets pregnant, has a baby boy who she names Wright. Vincent becomes a national hero, walks on the moon. Fay becomes part of a violent, leftist, anti-Vietnam War (+ anti-space exploration) group, based on the Weathermen. Fay disappears; Wright drifts untethered through life. Wright eventually surmises who his father is and writes heartfelt letters to Vincent who was unaware ...more
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was ok
The first fifty pages were amazing, and I kept plugging away, hoping the book would recapture something it had there. No one feels like a fully formed person—they’re more archetypes plugged into historical periods. The letters in particular revealed how little voice individuals have—those letters sounded like the author, not a 25-year-old man. And other smaller failings of that struck me was in one chapter, where it’s referenced that Faye’s son (forget his name...ack) ...more
Kathleen Gray
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a tough one to review. The first hundred pages take patience- lots of patience- but there are incredible bright spots (wait for Elise). Then, suddenly, things go quickly until they don't. I wasn't a fan of the space sections, to be honest, because they didn't tread new ground for me, preferring Faye and Wright in Ecuador. It was never entirely clear why Faye suddenly found the US as a young teen so offensive but her disgust and resulting actions are at the root of this challenging read. ...more
Dec 28, 2019 marked it as to-read
"For my money one of the most brilliant and under-appreciated novels of 2019, I’m genuinely baffled as to why Kathleen Alcott’s epic, haunting reimagining of the Cold War era hasn’t appeared on more Best of the Year lists or award shortlists. America Was Hard to Find is the story of Fay Fern, an uneasy child of privilege turned radical, and of Vincent Kahn, a fighter pilot who becomes the first man to walk on the moon, but it’s also the story of Wright, the lost boy born of their short-lived ...more
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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This book hit me hard. I needed time to process after finishing it.
It was so moving and enthralling. I became so invested in these characters. They were so deep and real to me. I enjoyed their journeys. I loved the alternate history in this story. It was a facinating look at a particular part of the 1960's and 70's I hadn't read much about before. Focusing on political activism and radicalism and the space program. Alcott's writing
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came across this book in one of the many enjoyable "Best of.. " lists that are floating around. Very good read. Reimagined story of the first man on the moon and his affair with a young waitress (Fay) near Edwards Air Force Base. He moves to Houston for the space program and Fay is left behind, pregnant with his child. Story spans their separate lives as well as that of their child, Wright, and covers the first walk on the moon, the Vietnam War, Counterculture and AIDs epidemic.
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Born in 1988 in Northern California, Kathleen Alcott is the author of the novels Infinite Home and The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets. Her short fiction, criticism, memoir, and food writing have appeared in outlets including The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker Online, The Los Angeles Review of Books, ZYZZYVA, Tin House, The Bennington Review, and The Coffin Factory.

In 2017, her short