Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: Stephen Fry in America

Stephen Fry is an entirely remarkable man and with his work Stephen Fry in America - based on his 2007-08 documentary series - he has captured beautifully the dichotomy of the United States of America. Over a period of about months, he set about visiting each of the fifty US states not only to see their most touristy destinations but to meet the people therein and experience what makes each state unique. In doing so, he has delivered a masterwork.

By evaluating each state individually and driving between (most) destinations, Fry produces a diary which gives the most hardened cynic a glimpse of the people behind the USA and why preconceived notions of arrogance, ignorance and blind jingoism often fall wide of the mark. That he drove - a very American pastime - an English taxi - quintessentially British - only serves to highlight such an outsider's view.

From visiting Morgan Freeman's Blues club in Mississippi to flying over Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, his remarkable penchant for understanding and describing both people and situations leaves the reader with no doubt as to his feelings - almost always overwhelmingly positive, but objectively presenting the big-picture view. Early on, he accurately notes each member of the US population almost belongs to two countries - the Union and their own individual state. With each state he finds a uniform warmness and welcome, but discovers the manifestation of that welcome changes with each locale.

It's an easy read, great both for giving one ideas about places to visit and experiences one must have in the United States. Also, he writes an apologetic for an often misunderstood country, now globally miscast as a buffoon due to recent actions in political and celebrity spheres.

When he describes a Southern "You're welcome" as the most genuine one could ever receive he sums up that so misunderstood region. As he describes America as the country in which he would "most" like to break down late at night - he would feel sure of being helped by strangers and passers-by - he denotes what it is that makes America a wonderful country - they celebrate and help others as well as their own (mostly!).

In a literary sense, the thing that stands out above all else is Fry's ability to describe so eloquently but in easy, simple sentences. His descriptions are bang-on but for a man with an obvious intellect and Johnsonian vocabulary, he makes this book easily accessible and eminently readable.

An easy basketballs.
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