Storyville, USA

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9780820321516: Storyville, USA

What is a Storyville? Whether you're in Toast, North Carolina, Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky, or Winner, South Dakota, a Storyville is a real town you can find on a map, with a tale behind its quirky name. Covering 20,000 miles of U.S. roads, Dale Peterson drove with his kids, Britt and Bayne, from Start, Louisiana, to Deadhorse, Alaska in search of small-town America in the "garage sale of the open highway." Along the way they explored open spaces, wild places, and country back roads and met people who weren't afraid to talk to one another.

Together, they discovered the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of nearly sixty small towns, as well as the zany stories behind them, guided by an AAA Road Atlas, expert local storytellers, and lots of curiosity. They dipped into Caddo Lake and the everglades of Uncertain, Texas, went a little crazy in Loco, Oklahoma, and learned about bee colonies in Climax, New York. Conversations with townsfolk range from the refrigerator at the center of Noodle, Texas, and the hazards of Accident, Maryland, to issues of civil rights, religion, and environmental preservation. Collected here are the landscapes, landmarks, faces, thoughts, and conversations of a sentimental, idiosyncratic, and often hilarious American odyssey. Storyville, USA is a long, winding trip into the back roads of the country and a longer one into the hinterland of our own hearts.

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Review:

Discovery crests every hill as Dale Peterson and his two children, Britt, 14, and Bayne, 11, set off across America playing a traveling game of their invention: Storyville. When they find an interesting place on the map, usually a very small town whose curious name surely holds a story--say, Monkeys Eyebrow, Kentucky; Hot Coffee, Mississippi; Big Scuffle, Arkansas; or Embarrass, Minnesota--they head for it with all the enthusiasm of the open road. Storyville USA is full of whimsy and the joy of meandering, "a search for old-fashioned America in the garage sale of the open highway." There's often a lilting humor among the sentences as Peterson bridges the youthful world of his children with his own: "We would soon stumble across Humble, and I thought it might be an excellent place to eat some pie."

Once they find an intriguing town, they search for local storytellers, and Storyville USA represents the best of their discoveries. What's nice here is that the towns swiftly become more than quirky names, they become their people--a Mormon missionary in Big Rock Candy Mountain, Utah; a Native man selling jewelry at Wounded Knee, South Dakota; a Mennonite buggy driver in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. And the thrill of meeting these individuals, of wondering who will be met next, drives the narrative as it inevitably drove the journey. Peterson conceives Storyville USA as part history of these often overlooked hamlets--some isolated, others pressed by suburban sprawl--but readers will also feel the fun of traveling with inquisitive kids. All the while, one cannot imagine more quality time between father and children than traveling the great American road searching for stories. --Byron Ricks

About the Author:

Dale Peterson is also the author of Chimpanzee Travels: On and Off the Road in Africa, Storyville, USA (both Georgia), and The Deluge and the Ark: A Journey into Primate Worlds. He is co-author, with Richard Wrangham, of Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. He teaches at Tufts University.

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Peterson, Dale
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