ally limited and morally obtuse.rnThe paperback editiom of JeffreyrnMeyers’ Orwell (Norton) and PrivilegedrnMoments: Encounters v’ith Writersrn(Wisconsin) will appear this fall.rnAnimal Farmrnby Jonathan EllisrnAlmost Heaven: Travels Throughrnthe Backwoods of Americarnby Martin FletcherrnLondon: Little, Brown and Company;rn304 pp.. $14.95rnMartin Fletcher worked seven yearsrnas a Washington, D.C., correspondentrnfor the London ‘Limes. Beforernreturning to Britain, he packed up a carrnand hit the road for a five-month journeyrnthat started in Virginia and ended in Seattle.rnifter years of writing about politics inrnWashington, Fletcher “resolved to takerntime off to explore this overlooked landrnmore deeply, to travel far beyond the famousrnsights and cities in search of this litrie-rnknown America.” Along the way, herngathered enough material to write a book.rnWhen a European writes a book aboutrnrural America, you can bet it will featurerndetailed accounts of the nutty inhabitantsrnof the hinterlands flanked by New Yorkrnand Los Angeles. To the European mind,rnAmerica is a giant freak show, overrun byrnphilistines, inbreds, and gun-lo’ers. Likernbus’ little worker ants, Europearrs arernbuilding a bureaucratic superstate thatrnhas very little room for the backwardrnnotions of individualism and freedomrnthat many Americans still treasure. Ofrncourse, these cultural differences cutrnboth ways. Unlike the French, mostrnAmericans are not attracted bv the scentrnof unwashed armpit, and unlike Englishmen,rnmost American men still preferrnwomen over sheep.rnFletcher observes enough Americanarnto delight the legions of Europe-buildersrnin Brussels. He tracks moonshiners. Hernattends a church service where parishionersrnhandle poisonous snakes andrndrink strychnine. He interviews UFOrnchasers and conspiracv theorists. And, atrnalmost everv stop along the trip (savernmaybe his visit to a Nevada bordello).rnFletcher confronts Chrishans so fimdamentalistrnthat, to his amazement, theyrnactually believe in creationism.rnFletcher is no creationist. And he isrndefinitelv bothered b’ some of the beliefsrnand customs of Heartland America.rnEven so, it’s obvious Fletcher likes a lot ofrnwhat he sees. He is also honest. In reflectingrnon one white Southerner’s iewrnthat a public-housing complex was anrn”incubator” where blacks on welfarern”made babies” and his opinion thatrnyoung black youths in flashy cars outsiderna store were crack dealers, Fletcher savs,rn”In both instances he was probablyrnright.” At a stop in Alabama, Fletcher recallsrnan earlier visit he made in 1996 tornin cstigate an epidemic of black churchrnburnings that turned out to be as fictitiousrnas flie Loch Ness monster:rnAlong with scores of other reportersrnfrom Washington and New York Irnflew in for a da}’ to write w hatrnseemed a straightforward storyrnabout how white racists, emulatingrnthe “night riders” of the KKK duringrnthe civil rights era, were destroyingrnthe traditional centres ofrnrural black life.rnLocal black leaders certainly encouragedrnus in that belief.. . Thatrnall happened, however, before therncharges of corruption and mismanagementrnby the county’s black officialsrncame to light, and I began tornwonder whether the media had notrnbeen hoodwinked.rnIndeed, the media were hoodwinked.rnAnd to Fletcher’s credit, he can admit tornhaving been taken for a ride by a band ofrnideological con men.rnFletcher’s strength is reporting: Itrnmakes Almost Heaven a simple, easv-tofollowrnaccount of a traveler who wanderedrnfrom the South to the Northwest.rnBut reporting, as anyone who reads arnnewspaper will know, is often bland andrnshallow, weaknesses from which AlmostrnHeaven suffers at times.rnThe main problem with the book isrnthat Marhn Fletcher had his mind madernup about the Hyover Republic before hernfilled his first tank of gas. In the openingrnpages, he writes that inner Americarnis an extraordinarily insular and conservativernplace whose inhabitantsrnconsider New York and Washingtonrnas foreign as London and Paris….rnIn much of this land even USA Todayrnis unobtainable and ultra rightwingrnradio chat-show hosts are oftenrnthe major source of “news.”rnWell, most large cities are prett’ insular,rnalso. For every urbanite who visits thernsymphony, the art museum, or the foreign-rnfilm theater, dozens more take arnfirst-class ride to Jerry Springerland. .Andrnall cities harbor at least one area wherernif s easier to catch a bullet or score drugsrnthan it is to find a USA Today “news” box.rnIt’s one thing to say that rural Americarnis “insular” and “conservahve,” and quiternanother thing to prove it. Countlessrnheroes of the American left hail fromrnthe Hearfland. South Dakota has givenrnus Senators Daschle and McGoern.rnTexas hoisted Great Society Lyndon.rnAnd Georgia produced Jimmy Garter.rnFletcher ignores this. He then contradictsrnhis claim that rural America is wallto-rnwall conservafives, by describing first arnchurch service at which Jimmy Garterrnpreached and later a visit to Hope,rnArkansas, birthplace of the notoriousrnright-wing conservative Bill Glinton.rnAnd the contradictions confinue to pilernup. How, for example, are West Virginianrnbear-hunters who use high-tech trackingrneqinpment or Indians with satelliterndishes insular? And could it really be thatrnthe all-black communities he visits arernconservative? F’or that matter, are all thernGliristians he meets conservative just becausernthey are Ghristian?rnAs a European journalist, Fletcher isrnwhat he is. Because Europeans get a kickrnout of these exotic creatures, he goes out ofrnhis way to hunt up white separatists, antigovernmentrnmilitia men, and weirdosrnwho believe the U.S. government is inrnleague with agents from outer space. Ifrnyour only knowledge about America camern.solel)-from this book, }ou would think therncountry were flowing over with antigovernmentrnloons. The reality is that vastiyrnmore Americans simpK’ believe their governmentrnis a stupid, lumbering behemothrnthat constantly steps on little people whilernshielding the corrupt and the lazy.rnA more interesting book would explorernthe thousands of Americas flourishingrnunder a political system that is under assaultrnby the homogenizers. It would surveyrna land that tolerates diverse beliefsrnand backgrounds. In short, it would havernbeen written by somebody who didn’trntreat America like a giant zoo.rnJonathan Ellis writes from Denver.rnOCTOBER 2001/33rnrnrn