Destination: American Road Trip
Book: American Fugue by Alexis Stamatis
I like books that are dense with ideas and expressed poetically. American Fugue by Greek author Alexis Stamatis fills the bill. Here’s my review from Amazon:
American Fugue’s author Alexis Stamatis confounds genres as he writes an innovative literary novel that combines with a thriller and a road trip book. The Greek author has an amazingly accurate finger on the pulse of America, and includes literary and cinematic and music references that nail pop culture as well as high-class culture. Beautifully written and a gripping story. Loved it.
The book also is a bit of Freudian self-analysis of the central character, a review of American literature and pop culture, observations on a Presidential election (Bush-Kerry), and a how-to study of the construction of a thriller.
Why does this book belong in the traveler’s library? Because as a road trip book, it contains sharp observations of place and brings alive the locales. When seen through the eyes of someone from another country, America looks slightly different, but still familiar.
“He”, the hero of the book, comes to America to forget. He has lost his mother to death, his wife has left him, he cannot speak to his father. He is a writer of thrillers but unable to get started on the next book, he flies to Iowa City for a writer’s conference. I won’t reveal what happens, but it is an interesting metaphor for “losing oneself.” His travels take him from
- Iowa City, small campus town, where he visits Wal-Mart and watches a lot of American TV and rents a car at Avis to
Hannibal, Missouri, small historic town, where he visits Tom Sawyer’s cave and Mark Twain’s house and marvels at the Mississippi River,
- Chicago, where he visits the Art Institute, Millenium Park, Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan,
- The countryside near Syracuse New York, a farm, woods, a lake.
Manhattan, where we see the George Washington Bridge, Hotel Chelsea (where many literary figures stayed), Brooklyn Bridge, Rockefeller Plaza, Brooklyn .
Not a bad sampling of American places, and his descriptions of his surroundings are convincing. Until he got to the countryside farm of a retired musician who had many Native Americans living in the woods around the farm in teepees. The Native Americans were Navajo. Navajo do NOT live in teepees–they live in hogans. The teepees bothered me greatly. I finally saw that Stamatis tends to lump all Native Americans together, and not realize the sharp differences between Indian nations. Perhaps the stereotype of all Indians living in teepees, was just easier. After all, this book was written for his Greek audience, where it was a best seller, not for Americans. I could forgive this lapse, since the rest of his descriptions rang true.
The other part of the book, the thriller, pushes you to keep turning pages, with puzzles created on each page. And underneath the bad-guys-lurking typical thriller, the main character, the writer, is both trying to discover himself and becoming the main character in a new book. He says:
He treated himself as if he were some important character in the play of life,…he used in his stories an “elevated” reality with his hero entering a strange, hostile world where he had to apply all of his inventiveness in order to survive. The dangerous new world was nothing other than the unbearable everyday reality, and the attempt to discover himself in it was the only way to survive. American Fugue, Alexis Stamatis
I highly recommend this book for a new view of America and as a complicated thriller novel. Enjoy the ride!
Photograph by Vera Marie Badertscher. All rights reserved.
After reading this book, I’d like to retrace his steps. Have you ever stayed at the Hotel Chelsea? It sounds very interesting. And I have not prowled the haunts of Twain in Hannibal, either. Let’s talk about road trips.