In which Susan Orlean libels Ohio, John Jeremiah Sullivan gets all erudite about Kentucky, and Jonathan Franzen interviews the State of New York by the WPA guides of the ’40s, right down to stylish Neutra type headings, State by State, a Panoramic Portrait of America (Ecco. 2008, Sean Wilsey and Matt Weiland, Eds.) resembles an off-the-interstate ramble–the sort where you run into the lesser known elements of our country: bars populated by meth and beer-crazed bikers, greasy spoons that kill the passing non-resident unlucky enough to attempt to eat the local cuisine without having built up an immunity.  Two of my favorite writers dissemble on our region: John Jeremiah Sullivan on Kentucky and Susan Orlean on Ohio.  Orlean’s piece, I’m sorry to say, manages to amplify less than flattering popular conceptions about Ohio: the tendency of its progeny to leave, the flammability of its rivers.  Having herself run screaming from Ohio to become a globe-trotting cosmopolitan essayist, she concludes what is for Orlean a rather prosaic essay with a mediatation on the irony of the name of her native Cleveland’s Chagrin Falls, followed by the line “But I can still see that explorer at the bank of the river, scanning the rolling Ohio landscape, the thick trees, the soft valleys, the middling Presidents, the hardy settlers, the medium-sized cities, the fine sturdy houses, and then swallowing his little nub of disappoinment and settling in.”  Thanks a lot, Orlean.  Other points of interest: Jonathan Franzen’s interview of the State of New York in the embodiement of the state’s publicist and personal attorney, William T. Vollmann’s freaky freaky bit on California, and yes: this year’s Mercantile Library Harriet Beecher Stowe lecturer, George Packer, on his native Alabama.  -Ed Scripsi

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Speaking as one who left Ohio for Kentucky several years ago, it does fill me with a sense of malice to see expats trash the state. Certainly, Ohio is not New York or California but neither is it Kansas or South Dakota.. It’s fashionable, I guess, to dis the flyover states.

  2. Last week I snagged a copy of this book for $3 at my company book sale. A few days later, I came across a table full of them at Barnes & Noble (labeled as “Hot Gift Ideas” or something), making me think that it’s Kind Of A Thing. Thanks for the review – I still look forward to reading it, even with the bad Ohio press.

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