cover image A Region Not Home: Reflections from Exile

A Region Not Home: Reflections from Exile

James Alan McPherson. Simon & Schuster, $24 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-684-83464-1

In this unified collection of cultural and personal essays, Pulitzer Prize- winning fiction writer (Elbow Room) and essayist McPherson probes how physical, emotional and moral distance challenge society and its individuals. In essays such as ""Disneyland,"" ""Ukiyo"" and ""On Becoming an American Writer"" (some of which have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire and elsewhere), he retraces his life's steps from Georgia to Cambridge, Iowa, California and back to Iowa, detailing how his decisions, based on need and principle, nonetheless resulted in estrangements, a messy divorce and bicoastal parenting of his beloved daughter, Rachel. (The image of the author throwing her a rose at graduation, then fleeing to Iowa, is lovely and sad.) Throughout, there's an easy kitchen-table quality to McPherson's style that invites the reader: Sit down, I've got a tale--I used to live in California... or, I wrote an e-mail to my daughter... or, There's a homeless man at a mall in Palo Alto.... Then come the shifts in time, discussions of Shakespeare, analyses of racism, reports on current issues like impeachment and O.J. Simpson, all melding together and leading to a realization that ours is a morally lacking society that substitutes ""material goods for spiritual ones"" and makes ""litigation... our only source of civility."" McPherson rejects this society, living instead in a ""floating world"" of like-minded individuals that substitutes as his ""hometown."" Yet he yearns for a time of ""spiritual civility"" for blacks and others, and exhorts people to work toward it. Neither abstract analyses nor observational reveries, these are essays on how to live. (Feb.)