Land of the Lost Souls / Cadillac Man

Cover of Land of the Lost Souls
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I just got confirmation that my policy on review copies is paying off for me. If you read the blurb at the bottom of this entry, you’ll see that I am donating money to charity in lieu of payment for the book. When I started doing this last summer, it was to get me to consider better the opportunity cost of taking a review copy. In other words, if I’m only willing to read a book if I get it for free, then I probably shouldn’t read it. (Library books get paid for in time and effort.) And if the money spent feels like too much after having read it, that’s also a clue to the book’s value.

Land of the Lost Souls is not a bad book. A very decent read. But I’m looking at that $10.45 and thinking I’d rather have spent it on a different book. For why, read to the end.

Anyhow, Cadillac Man is a New York City homeless guy, living on the streets (mostly) since 1994. Occasionally he’s had a job and a place to stay, but those haven’t lasted too long. Throughout that time, Cadillac Man kept a journal. Then a literary/journalist type who was friendly with him saw the journals and pitched them to media outlets. There’s been a documentary on Cadillac Man and parts of the journals appeared in Esquire. And now this book.

I didn’t come away from the book with a lot of deep thoughts. It appears to be a decent look into the life of a homeless person, and it may dispel some preconceived notions a few will have about them. For instance, one of the chapters is a love story of sorts between two homeless people. But I suspect that it will also confirm some prejudices as well, based on one guy’s predilections. See, he doesn’t want to work unless he’s making bank! Those bums are just lazy! I don’t think it’s fair to generalize from one guy’s story. Cadillac Man, if his own writing can be believed, is actually pretty industrious, but it’s very much in a way that avoids steady work.

And I say appears and if [it] can be believed because I have no insight into homelessness beyond a stint here or there volunteering at soup kitchens and shelters in Seattle. I have no way to judge Cadillac Man’s veracity. I think any work of non-fiction should be judged against the truth, but all I have are my own prejudices to compare against. So I’m hesitant to make any general claims about the book being eye-opening or anything like that. The narrative makes little in the way of such claims, and I can’t extrapolate.

Unfortunately, I have one big criticism. Cadillac Man’s writing and life are somewhat repetitive. I can’t really blame him for that, but it makes for less than stellar reading. Life on the streets is tough and dirty and repetitive, and it’s similar for most homeless people. So you kind of have to expect it. In Cadillac Man’s case, it’s repeated descriptions of collecting recyclables for money, repeated scrambles for places to sleep at night, etc. After a while, my eyes glazed over at these parts.

And I’m fully aware that such criticism comes from a position of privilege. What bored me is, due to circumstance, the nuts and bolts of someone else’s life. I’m just not able to turn off completely the part of my brain that says I need to be captivated by the story. Morally speaking, it would be better if I could.


A couple other blogged reviews:

Title: Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets
Author: Cadillac Man
Cover creator: Amy C. King (designer) / Eugene Richards (photographer)
Imprint / publisher: Bloomsbury
Format: Paperback
Length: 283 p.
Publication date: March 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1-59691-689-0

I received Land of the Lost Souls from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program in exchange for a review to be posted on LibraryThing. In accordance with my policy on review copies, I’ve donated $10.45 (the price of the book on Amazon.com) to the A.L.S.A..

Categories: Book Reviews.

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3 Responses

  1. I don’t blame you. It’s a fair point to make if it’s repetitive.

  2. I read the book from the point of view of someone who is homeless, and I was not captivated by it. In fact, there was a lot of not truth in it. There was no insight on the part of the author of how he came to be disaffected from families and friends, his participation in those reactions to him.

    He was talking about one aspect of homelessness, visible homelessness – life on the streets. That is different from living in a shelter. And he was also, because he is, talking about homelessness from a male point of view.

    Although he says, and I have read this elsewhere, that the shelters are houses of horror, that is largely, not true. There may be a few, and they may be the only ones talked about or commented on publicly. He is also talking about shelters for men, which is completely different from those for women.

    But I was struck by his desertion of his wife and children although he repeatedly displayed himself in heroic roles for others. He made the funeral, for a street buddy; he set up a memorial for another; he actually got into fights for other men out there. He sent the young girl, young enough to be his daughter, with whom he was having an affair, back to her family. Who knows the truth of what went on there?

    Yes, the author was right about it being repetitive, but that is in place of actual insight to not only what happened to him, and the forces that shaped him, but the larger societal forces as well that allows men and women and even families to live out of home – sometimes on the street and sometimes not.

    Jessica

  3. u suck