I like the idea of small-town life. I like the idea that I could mosey into a local coffee shop, have time to actually sit down, and the clerk would know my name, drink order, and something embarrassing I did as a child she could remind me of now and again. After reading The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson, I still like the idea of a small-town. I just don’t know if I could find one.
The Lost Continent is a non-fiction novel detailing Bryson’s quest for the quintessentially American small-town. Chasing his childhood memories along the empty highways and back roads of the heartland, Bryson quickly realizes that what he remembers as a beautiful and flourishing country are only fragments of boyhood’s collage of numerous small-towns meshed together.
Looking back as a man, Bryson’s narrative quickly departs from lighthearted commentary to mean-spirited bitterness. He blatantly bashes almost every town he visits. Upon seeing a teenager driving by in a new car, he writes, “It was obviously a high-school graduation present. If I could have run fast enough to keep up, I would happily have urinated all down the side of it” (71).
With choppy humor and sometimes-inconsistent style, Bryson has captured the essence of a long, grueling car ride across 38 states in the span of almost 300 pages. There are flashes of poignancy and a few attempts at sincerity, but not enough.
Bill Bryson, you are no Richard Russo.
- Kate Conte
Bryson, Bill. The Lost Continent. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1989. Print.