A Year in Reading: Ben Fountain

December 14, 2009 | 1 book mentioned 4 2 min read

coverAmericans live in a dream. It’s mostly a “media” dream at this point, a benumbing i.v. drip straight to the brain of TV, movies, pop music, video games, news “product,” and of course that enormous expanding plastic inevitable collective mind-dump that goes by the name of advertising—are we still exposed to approximately 5,000 ads each day, or has the number gone up since I came across this amazing statistic some years ago?—most of which is worse than worthless when it comes to trying to live an authentic life, i.e., one that might lead us to some functional level of self-knowledge, to some working awareness of what it means to be a human being in the world.

Not even 9/11 could shock us out of the dream, and as Susan Faludi shows in The Terror Dream, the dream is such a fixed condition of American existence that it swallowed 9/11 whole. If that catastrophe didn’t shock us awake, what will? Faludi’s dissection of the national id is even almost funny in a twisted, cringe-and-shiver way, until you remember just how much death and ruination have come of America’s years-long wallow in “Hollywood heroism.” It seems that our country became confused—we mistook the characters that John Wayne played in movies for real people, which led us to “Rumstud,” “the manly virtues,” the grotesquerie of President Bush—AWOL for how many months from his National Guard unit in 1972?—being described in Newsweek as a “fighting machine” thanks to a new exercise regimen and a buffed-up physique, Cheney—six deferments for Vietnam!—bemoaning American “weakness” and “vacillation,” self-professed Christians shrugging off “collateral damage” and on and on. At a certain point hypocrisy crosses over to schizophrenia. Are we there yet?

Faludi doesn’t flinch. Nor should we. Read this book and maybe we’ll start to understand the country we live in.

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is the author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction.