Zoellner takes us across the country in these essays-he states this book “attempts to paint a picture of ‘American place’ in this uncertain era of political toxin and economic rearrangement.”
This is a fellow who loves being behind the wheel. In his essay “Drive,” he writes “I have crossed and re-crossed the breadth of the United States alone, more or less coast to coast at least thirty times in the course of twenty years ...”
He confesses to having a peculiar fascination with certain points of interest. In the essay “Mormon Historical Sites at Night,” he details some unusual nocturnal adventures he has had when stopping by locations associated with the history of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
In his title piece “The National Road,” Zoellner traces the route of the original thoroughfare that passed through our region and “the countryside around Springfield, Ohio, which had first prospered from traffic on the National Road and then the later gift of industrialization before falling into gentle economic decline.”
In that piece, he explains how the appearance of the now ubiquitous “dollar stores” can be indications that communities are heading in to a decline as grocery stores vanish and areas become food deserts.
The final essay, “At the End There Will Be Strangers,” is a poignant and powerful examination of the transience of our culture. Zoellner’s family had a house in Arizona that was built by his grandparents. As time, passed the surrounding neighborhood became an enclave of million dollar mansions.
The property got sold to a wealthy Canadian who bought the lot to tear down the house to erect yet another pleasure palace. The author asked if he could be present for the demolition. He watched as all the memories that place represented were turned into rubble and dust in mere moments.
“The National Road” takes readers on a whirlwind journey that is meticulously detailed, thought-provoking, and exquisitely rendered, with just a touch of vertigo to assure that you are still paying attention.
ABOUT THE BOOK
“The National Road-Dispatches from a Changing America” by Tom Zoellner (Counterpoint, 264 pages, $26).
Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). Contact him at email@example.com.