The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell

Third cranky book review, and least cranky of the three:  I read this for my book group with no previous knowledge of Sarah Vowell. I don’t listen to public radio because I don’t listen to talk radio of any kind, so even though she’s a contributor to This American Life, she was completely new to me.

 And as she narrated this nonfiction tour of presidential assassination sites, I began viewing her as two people: Good Sarah and Bad Sarah. I’d say she had an evil twin, but she has a real-life twin who shows up occasionally. Anyway, Bad Sarah was a self-absorbed flake who took advantage of her friends because she was cute! And adorable! And isn’t it cute! and adorable! how Bad Sarah expects them to do all sorts of unreasonable “favors” for her just because she is who she is? Well, no. I didn’t buy Bad Sarah’s act. She was massively annoying and had no endearing traits at all. Unfortunately, she also narrated the first part of the book, in which Bad Sarah grates on my every last nerve as she expects her friends to drive her hither and yon so that she can gaze at Lincoln assassination memorabilia that are at about the fourth degree of obscurity.

 In the book group, this observation led to a lively debate on friendship. One person said that you just hang out with your friends and go along with what they want to do, like they do for you. I believe if you want to spend time with a friend, you do activities that are agreed upon, negotiated, or made optional. Like, if you want to see a movie I don’t want to see, I’ll meet you afterwards for dinner or something, but not see the movie with you. This also explained something about the person who made the comment about hanging out. A few years ago, she about hanging out with a friend of hers who spent half the day chasing down discounted chicken wings for a party he’d planned. And she went along with him and was bored out of her skull. But I would not take a friend along on my Odious Chores, nor would I go with them on theirs. It gets down to what another member of the group calls “the Unwilling Accomplice.” Bad Sarah always has to have an Unwilling Accomplice in her stories; it’s part of her shtick. I think all accomplices should be willing, but my stories are different from hers. I’m very independent and don’t always need an accomplice. And that is something I like about myself. In fact, it’s something l like about myself A LOT.

 Anyway, enough about all that. Good Sarah knows her history and writes more about it than herself. Good Sarah yanked the Lincoln story away from Bad Sarah, and kept the Garfield and McKinley stories to herself. Good Sarah has her playful side, especially when explaining how Robert Todd Lincoln was a sort of jinx. She tells about what happened with Ford’s Theater after Lincoln’s assassination, gives us some insight into the evolution of the Republican Party, and touches on everything from American cults to totem poles to statues.

I’ll recommend this book to American history buffs who think they can bear with Bad Sarah’s narcissism for a while. It doesn’t last that long, certainly less than one-third of the book.

 As for animals, there are a couple of unpleasant images, but they are fleeting. So I will declare this book SAFE for animal lovers.


August 4, 2009 - Posted by | Book Reviews, history, travel | , , , ,

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