Once the economy improves, though, Peck wants “binding measures that will close the budget gap and stabilize the national debt in the near future.” More troubling, he endorses a version of Congressman Paul Ryan’s controversial plan to privatize Medicare. “We should … consider converting Medicare into a system of vouchers with which seniors can buy health insurance,” Peck writes, “with the growth in annual voucher payments strictly limited to a rate below that at which medical costs have historically grown.” In other words, he wants to throw seniors on the tender mercies of insurance companies. How he expects the non-wealthy and the ailing to fare in the individual insurance market, he doesn’t say.

And there is more, much of it ripped from the old neoliberal playbook: support for career academies, wage insurance, investment in research and innovation, the loosening of city zoning requirements, campaign finance reform. Even foreclosures could turn out to be a boon, Peck suggests, if they encourage suddenly homeless job seekers to relocate to more prosperous areas. “Reviving that nomadic spirit,” he writes, “is essential to restoring economic health today.”

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.