Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell

(hb; 2005: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other -- a journey to the pit stops of American political murder, and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

"From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue -- it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and -- the author's favorite -- historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult."


This chuckle-worthy, humorously macabre read is focused, even with Vowell's many sidebar observations, sometimes-ironically linked events and people, and various past and modern-day facts.

Vowell makes no secret of her dislike of the then-current U.S. President (George W. Bush, whose name she can barely utter) and what the current crop of Republicans are doing, but she's fair in her presentation of how, in small ways, the Republican Party came to its current state. Vowell's listing of these events is not exhaustive nor complete - it's simply another subtheme sidebar, in a parade of odd links, characters, and an honest look at old-time politicking (even Abraham Lincoln is not spared).

Worth your time, this, if your humor runs dark, snarky and politically liberal.

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