BRAVING HOME: Dispatches from the Underwater Town, the Lava-Side Inn, and Other Extreme Locales

Jake Halpern, Author . Houghton Mifflin $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-618-15548-4

Halpern tours America's highways to report on stubborn stalwarts who defy eviction notices and cling to home despite floods, lava, fire and hurricanes. "Most of my destinations were afflicted by seasonal disasters, and I figured... I could hit each place in its fiercest, most defining hour." In Halpern's first week as a New Republic fact-checker, he pitched a story about "a burning town that nobody wanted to leave" and visited Centralia, Pa., where coal mines had been on fire for 40 years. Looking for similar leads, the peripatetic 20-something assembled article ideas and maps into a massive binder and left his job to embark on a journey to "the nation's most punishing landscapes." After a week with 72-year-old Thad Knight, the only inhabitant of a ruined town in the middle of a North Carolina floodplain, Halpern headed for Whittier, Alaska (pop. 182), a 14-story "indoor city" accessible via North America's longest vehicular tunnel. Running a Hawaiian bed and breakfast surrounded by molten lava is healthy hermit Jack Thompson: "I never imagined I was going to end up like this—I mean, living on an erupting volcano." The roll call of rugged individualists includes "the last of the Malibu hillbillies" and a Louisiana hurricane survivor. Halpern's flair for description enables readers to easily visualize the environs of these hardscrabble homekeepers, making the 12 b&w photos almost superfluous. Halpern has carved a creative niche for himself as the New Millennium's skewed answer to the late Charles Kuralt. This is perceptive writing that illuminates the human condition. Agent, Tina Bennett. (July 1)

Reviewed on: 04/28/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-618-44662-9
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-544-63538-8
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