ASSASSINATION VACATION by Sarah Vowell (Simon & Schuster), 258 pages, $30.50 cloth. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Here's an example of a totally interesting person writing a totally uninteresting book.
Sarah Vowell, an astute National Public Radio commentator, has a smart, off-centre view of the U.S. We got pieces of it in her previous release, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, in which she was able to balance her bratty commentary with her belief in American ideals.
In The Assassination Vacation, she recounts her pilgrimages to the historical sites associated with the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, John Garfield and William McKinley. Included among these destinations are the original homes of these three American presidents, the locations where they were killed, the places the assassins fled to and memorials to the victims.
It simply doesn't work as narrative. For one thing, of the three men who took a bullet, only Lincoln holds much interest. The assassins are slightly more intriguing as nutbars, but not any more than a lot of other criminals. And though the sometimes eccentric curators of the various museums and heritage buildings show some character potential, Vowell doesn't mine it to the max.
She only occasionally makes links between the circumstances of these assassinations and current U.S. affairs. And there's no discussion of the relationship between obvious topics like gun culture and the passion for celebrity and fundamental American values.
She can write, however, and is an easy communicator. Still, you have to love American history to care about this book. Actually you have to love America. It's not the obsession with dead presidents that gives The Assassination Vacation its creep factor - something Vowell wouldn't mind at all. It's the way even this smart, progressive thinker can't get over her love affair with her country.