Monday, 23 February 2009

Poe Ballantine - Things I Like About America (Old Street 2009)

With a cover designed by Geek Pie’s very own Jawatron, ‘Things I Like About America’ is a gentle paean to the underbelly of the states. These true life short stories are about down-and-outers, the forgotten, the poor and the stuck, those cycling in loops of repeated patterns spanning generations in dead-end drifter towns and rural outposts, forgotten by mainstream American society, existing on industry and beer, below the poverty line and trying to triumph over adversity. Poe Ballantine has spent his entire life drifting and writing, sometimes futilely. He writes to escape, he writes to reimagine his perfect surroundings, he writes to describe his drifter lifestyle. He writes about the towns he has visited, looking for the perfect quiet rural experience. This is a calmer sedate ‘On the Road’ less concerned with finding oneself and more concerned with discovery where one’s self will best fit. Ballantine avoids much talk about his druggy youth. The first stories concern his dalliances with sex and crack and the hairiness of some of the scrapes he has needled his way out of. Once he starts travelling, cooking from restaurant to restaurant, a quiet solitude pervades the text, minimalist and descriptive yet never really overwrought with emotion and overly picturesque vistas. Only ‘Things I Like About America’ concerning his return from self-imposed ex-pat exile in Mexico goes into his thoughts about the America he despises- the stripmalls and endless fascination with assimilation, while simultaneously listing all the aesthetic and surface things he likes. The rest of the book serenely paints a picture of an America we as tourists will never see. As he struggles to find the smallest quietest city to simply exist in austerity in, he slowly wheedles his choices down into an American rural purveyance of beauty and peace. Ballantine has 3 other books coming out on Old Street publishing. ‘God Clobbers Us All’, also boasting a Jawatron cover, is out at the same time and will be reviewed here shortly. In the meantime, if you’re sick of reading the same repetitive excessive love letters to the great America of vice, then this is its older self, world-weary, in love with America and that grand tradition of expanse, yet searching for a place to call home, a simple peace and a quiet stillness of solitude and self.

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