Cover of Not in Kansas AnymoreIt's the end of the year, and I'm somewhat inspired to follow the outgoing President's example and make next year a big list of books read, etc. But first:
I picked up Christine Wicker's Not In Kansas Anymore: A Curious Tale of How Magic Is Transforming America because it was the only book by Wicker I could find apart from her The Fall of the Evangelical Nation. I was puzzled by her approach in that book (a little hard analysis, a little fudging, then a road trip) and I wanted to see if that's just her style, or if perhaps I was reading her incorrectly.
I think it's her style: Not In Kansas Anymore suffers from the same problem.
I think there's a formula these sort of long-form small stories are supposed to follow: they're part first-person narrative, part received wisdom (historical narrative, expert opinion, what have you), but the two are supposed to be separate: a chapter of first-person narrative, a chapter of perspective, repeat. See for example Bill Bryson's book about the Appalachian Trail, A Walk In the Woods, or Tony Horwitz's Civil War book Confederates In The Attic: Bryson sticks more or less to the chapter-at-a-time formula; Horwitz picks topics per chapter and then breaks up the chapter to add expert opinion.
Wicker doesn't do this, and as a result what could be a fairly interesting story about hoodoo and magical culture in America (for lack of a better term) is a mess: the chapters have cutsie titles that only make sense once the chapter's been read. The story doesn't have an arc, per se. And after a while the vampires mix in with the witches and the hoodoo practitioners and the Otherkind. It's hard to tell who's going through a phase and who's a lifer, who's getting results and who's playing dress-up.
I wish Wicker well with her next book, and I'm grateful for Fall of the Evangelical Nation, which I will eventually write up here. But I have to humbly suggest that Wicker hadn't yet mastered her craft when she wrote this one.
exercises in compound storytelling