“Big American Trip addresses our insecurities as artists, lovers, and citizens who lack the ability to understand one another, regardless of which language we speak.”
On the surface, Christian Peet’s Big American Trip looks like a simple collection of postcards from a nondescript (“alien”) narrator on a journey across the United States. Here, the founder of Tarpaulin Sky Press and author of The Nines takes language and puts it under his microscope; whether it’s written on bathroom walls, the backs of postcards, or billboards, Peet examines how our knowledge of language affects each of us. Peet is no novice when it comes to communication, and his experience at deciphering what makes good fiction and publishing it Tarpaulin Sky’s journal and books leads into his interpretation of fictional narratives in this cross-country trip.
Inside this clever collection, postcards slowly reveal their true and unique messages. The gender, ethnicity and age of each sender is unknown, the postcards’ recipients range far and wide, and Peet casts an inclusive net with these poetic public addresses. Big American Trip addresses all of our insecurities as artists, as lovers, and as citizens who lack the ability to understand one another, regardless of which language we speak. Peet allows us to look closely at our limits as humans and as Americans in a world filled seemingly with so many opportunities to connect.
Peet’s writing is less about plot than about experimentation with text and style. That’s not to say Big American Trip is void of message or story—quite the contrary. The words that decorate the various postcards are provocative and alluring, the text playing with form and genre in unique ways. The “foreigner” narrator seeks common ground with all walks of life, in cities and towns across America. Peet places intricate stories and pieces of landscape next to one another, allowing the reader to perceive how these are magnetically drawn to one another.
Big American Trip speaks to the American dream and what holds it together, and Peet examines how difficult it can be to define what it means to be an American—there’s a certain Norman Rockwell quality to both the writing of postcards and the images on the cards themselves. Peet’s ambiguous “alien” addresses these descriptive, poetic mini-manifestoes to politicians, oil companies, and corporate officers, just to name a few. A kind of battle ensues between the hopefulness of the words (or lack thereof), and the negative associations their readers will have with the arrogance and misplaced power of recent current events.
Geographical borders are equal to language barriers, as we see while following our narrator from coast to coast in search of common denominators (shared passions, aspirations, security, adventure). We never quite figure out what this narrator is looking for, but aimlessness itself becomes the common thread that holds this story together. In the end, it’s not what is found on the journey but what remains missing that holds our interest: “It is not simply a matter of language…/it is possible to translate with fair accuracy from one language to another/without losing too much of the original/meaning. But there are not methods/by which we can translate a mentality/and its alien ideas.”
What’s most captivating about Big American Trip is Peet’s attention to the qualities we share, regardless of geographical and linguistic barriers. This unique book opens eyes and minds to both difference and sameness in an ever-evolving world.