Adventures and Heartache in the American Elsewhere
By Hank Stuever
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805075731, 320pp.)
Publication Date: July 1, 2004
List Price: $24.00*
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"I'm the one they send to the trailer park outside Chimayo, New Mexico, to see the place where the guy went crazy and shot somebody. I'm the one who gets sent to the monster truck show, Lollapalooza concerts, the world's biggest bridal fair. Readers warm to my style . . . unless it drives them to apoplexy."-H.S.
Take the off ramp to the world of Hank Stuever, a truly original writer who captures the humorous and haunting rhythms of modern American lives
Hank Stuever's funny, touching reports take us to everyday places where the increasingly unusual realities of today's world run rampant. Stuever--twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize--calls this terrain the American Elsewhere. He finds it by bypassing Big News and taking off ramps to places where seemingly ordinary people lead lives just slightly off-kilter. Stuever's Elsewhere extends through trailer parks, roller rinks, malls no longer sparkling, and suburbs where robot dogs growl and bored children jump off rooftops using Hefty-bag parachutes.
From Star Wars conventions to credit disasters, from snipers to missing persons, there is always something happening in Elsewhere-and Hank Stuever never misses a scintilla of the action. In Off Ramp, his destinations include Plano, Texas, home of two friends both named Angie ("Plano princesses") who turn home décor disasters over to a TV decorating show and wind up at war against orange carpet. In Washington D.C, we meet a pony-tailed "sofa surgeon" who confronts the mysteries of the universe and couches that won't go through doorways. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a spiral-permed secretary begins an odyssey toward marriage that takes her from anxiety dreams ("I'm walking down the aisle and nobody is looking at me or anything") to anxiety that is no dream. And we are there.
We visit discount funeral homes ("Let's say you're dead..."), campgrounds where international bonds are formed ("We are from Netherlands, and we are for two days wonderink, who it is you are storage facilities where America keeps its strangest secrets. We meet the men who drew the comic-book characters (including Wonder Woman) Stuever loved as a child professional bowlers, waterbed aficionados, and some Texans on "debris drives" in search of pieces of the fallen Columbia shuttle. Finally, we travel to Stuever's hometown of Oklahoma lCity where the bombing of the Alfred P.Murrah federal building has created a kind of Elsewhere he has never seen before.
You never know quite where Hank Stuever is going to take you. Off Ramp is the terrific debut of a fresh, humane, one-of-a-kind journalistic voice.
Hank Stuever's work is currently seen in The Washington Post, where he is a staff writer. He has twice been named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing and has appeared on Today, MSNBC, and various radio programs. He lives in Washington, D.C.
"Wildly funny, caustic, subversive, and a little bizarre around the edges. Stuever's essays display a wonderfully original and confident voice." -- Augusten Burroughs, author of Running With Scissors and Dry
“Hank Stuever finds beauty in parts of our country that most Americans would like to see bulldozed and introduces you to people you’ll never forget. And he makes you laugh your ass off.” —Dan Savage, author of Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America
"The real journey Stuever, a staff writer for the Washington Post, takes is both personal and profound. Whether documenting a wedding in New Mexico, two best friends in Plano, Tex., who swap decorating challenges on Trading Spaces or the challenge of getting a huge sofa into a Washington, D.C., apartment, Stuever looks deep into the American psyche. ... He casts the net wide-and what he catches is a nation gripped by longing, loss, hope and social convention.... This tender, funny, compelling collection is an homage to the rhythms and cadences of modern life. -- Publishers Weekly
"The 26 essays and profiles here range from offbeat consumer studies to artful deconstructions of common rituals, all of them underpinned by notes of angst, isolation, and millennial fearfulness. The self-deprecating author ("I got lost a lot . . . and I was not terribly cool") proves adept at fly-on-the-wall reportage, insinuating himself into the lives of quirky or mildly desperate individuals. .... The best essays-a piece on storage-unit culture and a haunting personalization of the Oklahoma City bombing-dig deeper into our domestic isolation and wanderlust. Stuever's work recalls that of David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs ... but it's generally sweeter and less biting. Low-key, modest pleasures." -- Kirkus Reviews