DEATHLY OBSESSION | Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell
For fans of Ira Glass’ “This American Life,” a staple of public radio, the voice – if not the name – of Sarah Vowell is very familiar. If you’re not an NPR listener, perhaps you’ll recognize Vowell from her voicing of the character of Violet Parr in the animated movie “The Incredibles.”
I’m currently “reading” (rather, listening to the audiobook version of) Vowell’s 2005 book “Assassination Vacation.” As a conspiracy buff and the reader of dozens of books on the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, I’ve long wanted to read this book, in which Vowell travels around the nation digging up facts on the assassinations of U. S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley and James Garfield. I’m in the middle of listening to “Manhunt,” a detailed look at the search for John Wilkes Booth following the Lincoln assassination…and while it’s fascinating (though humorless) book, it made me long for something a little lighter. Something funny. Plus I had some audiobook credits I needed to use, so I decided to give “Assassination Vacation” a shot.
The book is part history and part travelogue, and it scores well on both points. Vowell has a sharp wit and a keen eye for observation, and her fascination with assassinations – and her discoveries while researching them – are really remarkable. (Her take on the fact that Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was either present or nearby when each of the assassinations featured in this book occured is quite interesting.)
Many find her voice irritating, but as a fan of her essays on “This American Life,” her voice – which matches her acerbic, somewhat jaded worldview – fits the book well. She sidetracks quite often in this book to riff on President George W. Bush and sell her extreme hatred for him, but those trips are short enough to not ruin the rest of it.