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Mission To America

Last October, when it was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, I declared that I'd read Walter Kirn's Mission to America "no matter what Paul Gray's review made of it."

Then I forgot all about it. What reminded me was Mr Kirn's priceless review of Harvey C Mansfield's Manliness.

I'm not entirely sure that I actually read Paul Gray's review of Mission To America. The reason for my enthusiasm was Up In The Air, Mr Kirn's previous novel. In that book, a road warrior flies about the American West, desperate to close a deal while clocking up the miles. Ryan M Bingham is a character whom I'd have called snarky if I'd been familiar with the word at the time; he wants me to like him without caring much about whether he's really likeable. That puts him at a huge distance from Mason Plato LaVerle, the hero of Mission to America. Mason is sweet. He's genuinely well-intentioned, and he subscribes to much of the wisdom of the remote cult in which he was brought up. He wants life to be real, and he doesn't want to get stuck doing soulless things.

Mason comes from Bluff, Montana, a secluded community run by women who encourage their men to undertake demanding physical labor while they, the women, do the thinking. (The library, a ramshackle collection of books, is for "dandies" - homosexuals.) The wisdom of this arrangement might very well be what the novel sets out to establish. Mr Kirn knows, however, how to start on a ...

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