Packer, a staff writer at the New Yorker – and among the best non-fiction writers in America – devotes most of The Unwinding to those whom Oprah has robbed of excuses. Billed as “an inner history of the new America”, the book is both a portrait of a country in flux and an elegy to those on the wrong side of it. Starting in 1978 and concluding after Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election, the big events – from Ronald Reagan’s first victory to the attacks of 9/11 – supply only fleeting backdrops to the odysseys of its characters. The Unwinding is about the majority of Americans whose lives have grown more atomised and less financially secure in the past generation. And it is about a society whose cultural landmarks have been crowded out by monuments to the new household gods – “celebrities who only grow more exalted as other things recede”. In one sketch, Packer observes that Raymond Carver “seemed to know, in the unintentional way of a fiction writer, that the country’s future would be most unnerving in its ordinariness”. This is also Packer’s canvas.
more from Edward Luce at the FT here.