A confessed assassination junkie, Sarah Vowell travelled the country investigating sites of renown connected to U.S presidential assassinations -- Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. She is obviously quite knowledgeable on this topic and she writes in lively, clear, and entertaining prose. At first, it seemed like I was in for a good time with Assassination Vacation.
But nothing, and I mean nothing, got by without her striking a moral pose: a few innocuous words from a park ranger bring to mind the horrors of Guantanamo; Garfield's election is when the Republican party turned evil, etc. This is a scourge. God forbid anyone produce a creative work anymore without devoting a solid percentage of it to positioning it in the correct socio-political and ethical framework. It's depressing, but also understandable to a certain extent. Vowell is young (or was when she wrote this) and young people are simultaneously thoughtless and self-assured in their beliefs. I also blame Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for convincing an entire generation that smug political snark counts as witty insight.
In any event, I could tolerate the need of a 21st century progressive to pass sanctimonious judgment on folks from a century and a half ago when it came to the Lincoln assassination because that's the planted, inherited narrative we all have as our legacy. I was hoping when she got to the Garfield assassination she would let up and focus on the story. Nope. It got worse. She reached the point where the effort to identify and skip past the narrow-minded moralizing made it no longer worthwhile to continue. So I did something I have only done a handful of times in my life. I quit on a book before finishing.
Assassination Vacation got excellent reviews and was highly spoken of on a couple of forums I visit. That's how it came to my attention. Perhaps it would work better for people younger than me (that's most people) who expect, and possibly require, to know the moral positioning of the author of their reading material. For me, it's just an annoying distraction.