Literary tour across the USA: Four impressive novels set in the largest american cities
Only somebody who is living far far away from both the UK and the USA may treat them the same. In fact, we are two different worlds. Even our English varies: the USA is the parallel universe where the sparkling water magically turns into soda, chips — into French fries and the rubbish — into the trash.
Aside from the language, America gives you a lot of other reasons to become obsessed with the idea of visiting it. But what if you couldn’t do that right now? Before you buy those cherished plane tickets and fly seven hours over the Atlantic, let’s go on a literary tour across America. Four cities — four books — a plethora of incredible cityscapes immortalised on their pages.
The nearest city for the British is New York, so we are heading there right now to set off our tour.
New York: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This novel is an immortal American classic, a literary gem which tells the semi-autobiographical story about the arduous life of a young girl named Francie Nolan at the crossroads of centuries.
The story is filled with human drama, heartrending family experiences, and the lofty spirit of Francie who eagerly wants to change the world for the better. Each character inside Nolan family has inexhaustible vitality, but together they become even stronger.
Getting away from the fragile essence of human relations, Betty Smith walks the reader through the streets of Brooklyn as they had been in the early XX century. In particular, Williamsburg neighbourhood, where the author was born and bred.
Although Brooklyn is not the top destination for tourists in New York, it is the borough to know what the majority of New-Yorkers live and breathe. It held secrets you’ll never reveal by visiting Manhattan. And now you can glimpse the hidden by reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.
Meanwhile, our next stop is Chicago. It’s right on our way from the East to West coast.
Chicago: Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
Divergent Trilogy is a dystopian novel oriented mostly on young adults. The society is now divided into five fractions. Every fraction is responsible for their own mission, but all of them are aimed at the struggle against human frailties which has led the world to the apocalypse.
In the Divergent universe, each person who reached the age of 16 must be selected to the particular fraction according to his or her prevailing personal qualities. If he or she is brave, he will go to Dauntless, if intellectual — to Erudite, selfless — to Abnegation, peaceful — to Amity, and honest — to Candor. However, the candidate can choose any fraction regardless of the results.
The main character of the novel is Beatrice (Tris) Prior, who has just turned 16 at the beginning of the story. She belongs to Abnegation, but want to join Dauntless. During the tests, it turns out that Tris is a Divergent, a person with multiple abilities who can be a part of any fraction. The society treats Divergents with fear, so she is obliged to hide this fact during her initiation facing a lot of challenges.
Even though the story is set in worn-out and decayed Chicago, the author mentions prominent contemporary landmarks while describing the scenes. Millenium Park, State Shore street, Lake Shore Drive, Michigan Avenue, famous Buckingham Fountain, and modern-day Chicago sculpture called “Golden Gate” are among them. Interestingly, some landmarks serve as headquarters for fractions.
And now, we’ve got a long journey to Las Vegas. Before we go, remember: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Las Vegas: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson
This is another title with autobiographical elements in our review. Written in an unusual style of Gonzo journalism, the novel impresses with the total absurdity of what’s going on.
Two main characters — journalist Raoul Duke (who is actually based on a personality of Hunter Thompson) and his attorney Dr Gonzo — came to Vegas to craft materials dedicated to Mint 400, a desert off-road race which kicks off in Las Vegas.
During their stay in the Sin City, they are heavily experimenting with psychoactive substances (LSD, cocaine, mescaline, marijuana, and others). This leads both to mind-bending hallucinations and bizarre experiences, so sometimes the reader can’t distinguish “dream from reality” for sure.
You may be surprised, but the plot of this novel doesn’t revolve around gaming. Raoul Duke tried his luck only twice: the first time he was unable to appreciate its atmosphere due to narcotic hallucinations, the second time he played The Big Wheel and obviously lost.
However, the author emphasises the fact that the impressions you bring home from Vegas are incomparable to the experience you get in local venues. Following the path of Mint 400, we end up in California near Lake Tahoe. But this is not our target location: two-three hours drive and we’re entering Los Angeles, our last stop for today.
Los Angeles: Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
This book is not about the luxury life of Hollywood stars bathed in gold and silver, it’s a crime fiction story in the best traditions of American noir. We would definitely call it a worthy heir of Dashiell Hammet’s hardboiled novels.
The main character Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins knows at first hand what racism and war are like. He is a black veteran of The Second World War who moved from Houston to Los Angeles. At the first lines of the novel, we meet him unemployed and trying to make ends meet. Suddenly, his luck is changing when the white man DeWitt Albright offers him a fishy but a well-paid gig: to find a woman named Daphne Monet.
Easy accepts the proposal but quickly realises he is dragged into a dirty business. The case appears being mysterious, knotty, and dangerous enough for Easy to ask his friend Mouse to help him in this intricate investigation.
Walter Mosley spent his youth in South Los Angeles, so he reproduces the picture of the post-war city from his own memory. The book is replete with descriptions of the authentic LA locations unwittingly visited by Easy. Anyway, Mosley brings us to those Los Angeles which is invisible for its occasional guest, but awfully familiar to black people who lived there in the late 40s.
We picked out such different books to convey the US atmosphere to its fullest, but we understand that it may be not enough for demanding readers. America is too multifaceted to be depicted on the pages of only four books. So even though our quick trip to the USA is over, you can discover more book reviews in our cosy reading nook. We write about novels set in America pretty often, so you can easily organize yourself the next visit to Uncle Sam. Be successful in your America exploration!
The editorial unit