I heard Evan Wright, the author of Hella Nation, interviewed on the radio some time ago, and ever since then his book has been on my list to read. I'm so glad I finally did.
Hella Nation is a journey through America's underbelly, and Wright is the perfect tour guide. A louche figure, the amoral journalist is obviously fascinated with those who choose to live entirely outside the bounds of polite society. In this book we meet porn stars, eco-terrorists, taxi dancers (who knew they even still existed?) and sad, scary Russian wannabe gangsters. It is a pathetic, degenerate world that Wright delineates, and it is a world right on our doorsteps - maybe even inside our houses.
My favourite piece in the book is 'Portrait of a Con-Artist', in which we learn about the rise and fall of silicone valley wizz kid Seth Warshavsky. It stands as a kind of morality tale for geeky guys everywhere, and is made all the more intriguing through Wright's own involvement in the story.
The book is almost old-fashioned in its presentation. Wright is a kind of gonzo-journalist in a world in which no such thing exists anymore. The essays are about his own inability to fit in, and are working out an exploration of the author's own anxieties about the future of Western society - and his own convoluted career. There is definitely something of Tom Wolfe in the project, which is no bad thing in my book.
There is also something quite touching about most of the pieces. Wright is fascinated by decline, for in the decline of his subjects he sees someting redemptive - he admires their continued pluck in the face of failure, censure and complete rejection by society.
It is a fascinating book by a very skillful writer, and the journalism takes on an almost cinematic quality at times, rich in dialogue and filled with incredibly strong characters who, despite their extraordinary faults, you can't help but like. This is no surprise because the author has also been a scriptwriter.
A terrific, slightly macho, read.