INTO THE BADLANDS: TRAVELS THROUGH URBAN AMERICA by John William; Flamingo/Harper Collins, 1991

Roundly more fascinating for its anecdotal take on America as seen through the eyes of an Englander than Badlands is interesting for its main motivation: tracking down Mr. William's favorite American pulp fiction writers (Burke; Hiaasen; Paretsky; Leonard; Ellroy; Crumley; Vachss, etc.), of which more than a few of I don't share his enthusiasm for—though it's the thread of commonality that drew me to it in the first place. But, as I've mentioned already, that really isn't what makes Badlands interesting. Sure, some of the interview segments are worthwhile in and of themselves, but they're merely kindling. A jump off point on which William's builds his fire. In 1989 he came to the U.S. with the notion of trying to fuse his own perspective with that of which he had read—to see how it matched up—and what he came away with more often than not proved that indeed, life is often stranger than fiction. Badlands is a tour de force of literary criticism whose strong points rest with the character, snickering wit, and shrewdly concise personality of its author. A mercurial travelogue at its pointillist best.

-Peter Davis


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