Review: A new book on rural America avoids the clichés. Why that’s only mostly a good thing
“We are a nation that once knew our past and our present as intimately as we know our children. We have the ability to create a new narrative not only for our country but for our own selves.” —Theodore Van Kirk, writing in the Wall Street Journal in October 2017 about America’s national pastime.
The opening lines of “The Last Days of Rural America” capture its essential claim: that as America’s rural areas decline, we do not seem to know how to narrate our past and how to narrate our future. In addition to its focus on the past, the book is also about the future: how America might reinvent itself as a city-state or a city-country. The book is an attempt to find the middle ground between two competing narrative voices. On the one hand, there are a number of old-school narrative narratives that have become part of our vernacular. These are tales that, by and large, were told from the perspective of the white, rural America of which the author spoke in the book’s opening pages:
1. Stories about the “Wild, Wild West”:
The Old West is seen as a place where cowboys and frontier settlers go on adventures to fight Indians and then go back home to their farms.
One of the more recent stories of the “Wild, Wild West” is the book by Michael Lewis, “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” published in July 2013. Lewis’s story has not yet had the impact of his earlier book, Outliers, but that book’s influence extends beyond the field of sports.
In the past few years, a number of books have been published about the “Wild, Wild West.” In “The End of the Line” in the November 2013 edition of Harper’s magazine by Thomas B. Doherty,