The strange places we hang our hats
At an age when most journalists are just starting to excel at their craft, 28-year-old Jake Halpern has already scored writing credits in The New Yorker and The New Republic. Now he has his first book as well, which, in its esoteric little way, attempts to reconcile the increasingly vagabond spirit of Americans with the deeply held human need to call someplace "home." In Braving Home: Dispatches from the Underwater Town, the Lava-Side Inn, and Other Extreme Locales, Halpern's year-long, in-the-field investigations take him to five disparate places in the U.S. that share a common bond. In North Carolina, Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana and California, places where despite extreme, often tragic climatic, elemental and ecological upheaval stalwart and courageous (some might say very eccentric) individuals stay put out of loyalty to the land, he discovers some remarkable stories. A few of the characters Halpern encounters: Thad Knight, of Princeville, North Carolina, a place that's reputed to be the oldest all-black town in the country. Despite continuous, devastating floods, Knight tenaciously hangs on to what's left in Princeville. In snow-encrusted, claustrophobic Whittier, Alaska, a community comprised largely of a single, 14-story building, Halpern hangs out with Babs Reynolds, a woman on the run from her past, who savors the isolation Alaska offers. Jack Thompson is the last inhabitant of Royal Gardens, Hawaii, a town now practically encased in lava from the volcano Mount Kilauea. In Grand Isle, Louisiana, 90 miles south of New Orleans, Ambrose Bresson has endured violent rainstorms for nearly 70 years. What makes folks stay on in these out-of-the way, often dangerous places? Is it simple stubbornness? A twisted sort of loyalty? A determination to remain rooted in a rootless society? Halpern pursues these questions with a curiosity and keen sense of adventure that permeate his wonderfully readable profiles. The author's off-the-beaten-path stories will keep readers turning the pages of this unusual book.