I must admit that I wasn’t terribly familiar with Bryson’s work prior to picking up this one. While I know a good deal of people who absolutely adore his style – and this book! – I was less struck by it. The book’s premise sounds like it has the makings of a Great American Road Novel similar to Blue Highways: a trek across the United States through small towns, hoping that a more thorough notion of what constitutes America will reveal itself. The opening line is one of the best there is: “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to”.
Unfortunately, what follows is roughly 300 pages of snark about everything from open fields, the Mississippi river, waitresses, and everything in between. It feels as though each small town is rendered indistinguishable in its wallowing consumerism, small-minded inhabitants, and absolute boredom. I
f anything, The Lost Continent reads like the anti-road novel: after pages and pages of reading about dull roads, we arrive at the same outline of a town, plus or minus a few adjectives. It’s almost completely stripped of the romanticism of Travels with Charley or Blue Highways. The deadpan humor is relentless and for the most part directed at the hapless inhabitants of whatever ugly abode. There is little inward direction. It’s a shame because the book is at its strongest when Bryson is offering up anecdotes about his father and the ill-begotten road trips of his childhood – here, the snark works wonders because its accompanied by genuine warmth.