Colby buzzell possesses that nomadic spirit, all right, and Lost in America is his tribute to Jack Kerouac’s 1957 autobiographical novel, On the Road. Buzzell’s trip is punctuated by the death of his Korean-born mother and informed by the postwar blues. “The last time my life made any sense at all was when I was in the military,” he writes.

Now in his thirties, Buzzell meanders across the country, looking for work (and occasionally finding it), while trying to keep his beloved 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente from expiring. But Buzzell and his memoir don’t really hit their stride until he reaches the Motor City.

In Detroit, Buzzell stumbles on an almost surrealistic vision of blight and decay. But an odd thing happens: he falls in love—with the battered landscape, the warmly run residential hotel he has made his home, and the surprisingly friendly people he meets foraging the wrecked city. Here he describes his visit to the deserted Packard auto plant:

At one time, we actually made things within these walls; people made a good living and worked in teams and shipped items off our assembly lines. Now the Packard plant and the ruins of Detroit are large open coffins where artists and vagrants pay their respects, or gravediggers come in to pick a corpse of its copper bones. . . .

Peck gives us a sociological sketch of the recession. Buzzell, at his most eloquent, supplies the poetry.

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Julia M. Klein is a cultural reporter and critic in Philadelphia and a CJR contributing editor.