Crace travels through a post-apocalyptic America

Crace takes revenge on U.S. foreign policy, reverses history tide

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2007

LONDON - Jim Crace has mixed feelings about America.

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The British novelist loves the United States - its varied landscapes, friendly people, boundless creativity. He hates its foreign policy.

In his latest novel, "The Pesthouse," Crace takes his revenge by reversing the tide of history.

Set in a bleak future after an unspecified apocalypse, the book follows a trickle of desperate Americans as they trek across a devastated country - its soil poisoned, its cities reduced to rubble and rust - toward the coast and boats that will take them to a better life in Europe.

Eastward-bound, the sore, straggling migrants are enacting the settlement of the United States in reverse. It is a quietly shocking image.

American stories, Crace points out, usually travel east to west.

Crace says that upending the traditional American narrative was his way of punishing the United States. Like many liberal Europeans, he feels the country has let him down since the election of President Bush in 2000.

"I wanted to find out the status of my love-hate relationship with America by writing a book about America," he says.

Readers of Crace will not be surprised to learn that bad things happen. Murder, violent abduction, the minutely described butchering of a horse are described with matter-of-fact unsqueamishness. This, after all, is the writer whose 1999 novel "Being Dead" opens with a murder and goes on to describe decomposition and putrefaction in clear-eyed, oddly beautiful, detail.

Crace's prose is tactile and down-to earth. Indeed, at times, it seems to be settling into the earth. "The Pesthouse" is full of earth, water, wood, stone, rust and flesh.

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