San Francisco author Sally Ooms has written a good book, "Finding Home: How Americans Prevail." The problem is that it has the potential to be a great book — wonderful, even — but it falls short.
The book, which consists of 10 chapters of verbatim, first-person stories, is difficult to read at first. The opening stories, read back to back, trigger such sadness and desperation, even preventing a peaceful night's sleep for this reader.
There are combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (Chapter 2), Native Americans whose land and lives have been cruelly exploited (Chapter 5), and low-income survivors of Hurricane Katrina whose socio-economic standing has put them permanently last in line for any kind of aid (Chapter 7).
Getting further into the book, however, may turn these feelings around for readers who persevere. As the narratives progress, one starts to realize they aren't merely unhappy stories, but myriad voices of real and complex people dealing with hardships in meaningful ways. That the positives in these narratives — and there are many — can be overlooked for so long can be traced to the way they are presented.
For one thing, the book's title, "Finding Home: How Americans Prevail," creates the expectation that it is about people's travails and triumphs in preserving or securing a dwelling.
True, some stories involve housing (mainly those in Chapter 6, "House and Home"), but they don't form the bulk of the content. The focus of each of the 48 tales is unique, and Ooms has spun no consistent thread to tie them together, even though the speakers in each chapter do belong to roughly the same social and/or demographic group.
In all of the stories, which are first-person accounts, only the voices of the interviewees are heard; there is no indication that the narratives have come to life through question-and-answer sessions. Sometimes the uninterrupted first-person voice is successful, inviting the reader to step into the drama, but sometimes the unbroken unspooling of facts and opinions becomes a soporific monotone.
Many of these stories are compelling. It is obvious that the author — a veteran reporter, correspondent and editor for publications in Oregon, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Missouri and Kansas — spent hours, days, weeks, even years traveling around the country and conducting the interviews; her skill as a professional journalist is evident in the level of detail in each story.
Ooms clearly has achieved the purpose stated in her preface, to showcase "people who are pretty much everyday Americans dealing with the problems our society is handing us on a daily basis."
She has made a sterling effort, and the results make an absorbing read. It just seems a shame that, through no fault of its content, "Finding Home" is less than an unforgettable book.
BOOK REVIEWFinding Home: How Americans Prevail
By Sally Ooms
Published by: Home Free Publishing