Top Books of 2018 for American Road Tripping
Two novels set on the open road and two accounts of life in Trump's White House all made for journeys deep into America today
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Dec. 28, 2018
The most enjoyable book I read this year was Gary Shteyngart's Lake Success (Random House), a modern-day road novel, of sorts. Our antihero, a Wall Street billionaire, takes a cross-country Greyhound bus trip as his personal and professional lives are self-destructing. Set in pre-election 2016, the story provides a scathing and witty assessment of an America throttled by income disparity, corporate malfeasance, political corruption, and ethical compromise.
A road novel of a totally different sort is Panhandle native Randy Kennedy's excellent debut Presidio (Touchstone), a noirish tale of two estranged brothers who become inadvertent kidnappers and try to outrun the law to the Mexican border. Set across the harsh expanse of West Texas, the vivid descriptions of the unforgiving landscape render it an omnipresent character in its own right.
My reading year was roughly bookended with two red-meat exposés on our president, Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Henry Holt and Co.) and Bob Woodward's more recent Fear: Trump in the White House (Simon & Schuster). If you've been following the news closely for the past two-plus years, then you'll probably be familiar with the most egregious and disturbing revelations entailed in both books. It's not a pretty picture, to say the least. The fact that Wolff, a writer for USA Today and The Hollywood Reporter, was allowed to park himself outside the Oval Office for months and speak to whomever he pleased should tell you all you need to know about the chaos that characterizes this frightful regime.
Only die-hard book lovers will likely make it all the way through The Invented Part, by Argentine author Rodrigo Fresán (Open Letter Press, translated by Will Vanderhyden). This sprawling doorstop of a novel about writers and writing is dense, frenetic, and challenging, but Fresán's lengthy forays into F. Scott Fitzgerald, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Kinks, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, and other noteworthy cultural touchstones tend to ease the burden of this thought-provoking tome.