The New York Times's most intrepid itinerant takes the measure of American manhood on a road trip like no other
Charlie LeDuff has made a career out of his extraordinary ability to capture the spirit of the people and places he profiles. US Guys is his odyssey in search of the truth behind the American man, from a jaded homicide detective in Detroit to a two-bit jockey at a racetrack in Miami to a pair of lovers at a gay rodeo. With audacity, humor, and no small amount of physical pain, he captures a broad diversity of voices as they wrestle with an America they love but increasingly fail to understand.
Whether fighting the biggest guy at an Oakland biker club, talking race with a semipro Texas football team or riding shotgun with Detroit homicide, LeDuff's gonzo exploits in this book are nothing short of inspired. The New York Times reporter is a big-game hunter, with plenty of ability to sniff out, ensnare and lovingly stuff and mount his subjects. Less an analytic discourse than an "American travelogue," the book searches out "the angry forgotten middling America"--rendering a complex array of American wildlife, from gay rodeo star wannabes to Little Big Horn re-enactors. Though LeDuff's writing often comes off as aggressive and unfiltered, there are many moments when it feels self-consciously stylized, eclipsing an otherwise keen eye for detail. Authenticity surfaces in astute observations ("self-expression is dangerous when too much expression is mixed with too little sense of self"). But LeDuff's quest for edginess sometimes overwhelms his insights, through overuse of words like "cheap" ("cheap booze," "cheap-looking girl," "cheap chromium tanning salons"). His pronouncements on American life (e.g., "meaning is invented in America through new sink faucets and car waxes and aluminum siding in pastel colors") can also miss the mark. Like the hard-luck stories he chronicles, the book is angry, touching, entertaining and flawed--a prologue, one hopes, to greater things down the road. (Feb. 5)
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March 24, 2008
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