The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
Updated: Feb 14, 2020
Summary: After living in England for many years, Bill discovers his nostalgia for America and the Mid-West. He takes off on a several month excursion across the U.S. to discover the perfect small town.
Review: Granted, Bill Bryson is funny. His quick wit and snide, judgmental remarks are probably the only things that got me through this book. (Although, I don't know if I would go as far as to say he is "pound-on-the-floor, snort-root-beer-out-of-your-nose funny," San Francisco Examiner. That's just a little too much.) And a comedic tone can only get you so far.
Bill's road trip starts out in search of Amalgram, a perfect, fictitious small town based on the background of 1950's TV and movies (But I wish he would have added tap-dancing orphans to his list of qualifications). Along the way, though, his predilections for small towns quickly descends into pessimistic observations as nowhere seems to fit his ideal.
During the first few towns, his judgments seem unique and whole-hearted, but by the end, it is the same two problems over and over again. "This town is too touristy!" or "This town isn't touristy enough!" It gets old very, very quickly.
The scenes Bill writes about on the road are descriptive to where you can almost close your eyes and see the swaying cornfields of Iowa, the still waters of Lake Huron, and the snow-covered tips of the Rockies (ooh, I even just gave myself the chills!), but the towns are all the same. "It's all shopping malls and McDonald's", "It's nothing but gift shops", "Where are the shopping malls, McDonald's, and gift shops?"
My other complaint is totally personal and has nothing to do with the writing, but the writer. I understand this book was written many moons ago, in fact, I was just being born when he was passing through the Northeast, but it astounds me when someone can just take off a year of whatever occupation they have and just drive around a continent. And what about his wife and children that he rarely mentions? It made me wonder if they were even real. Did he ever call them? Was his humor just cover of being an asshole and terrible husband and father?
Anyway, it wasn't that I hated the book, it just wasn't great. It had it's funny moments that elicited an internal chuckle, but I didn't find myself thinking the best of Bill Bryson, or America, by the end.