America Was Hard to Find

Written by Kathleen Alcott
Review by Viviane Crystal

In the late 1950s, Fay Fern has an affair with a married man, Vincent Kahn, who is awaiting entry into NASA’s space program as an astronaut. This is the only smoothly written part of this startling novel. Vincent Kahn’s wife is everything a future astronaut needs and able to meet the demands of the leering, vulture-like press photographers who cover the highlights of America’s space program. But Fay, who only desires to “live within herself,” becomes disoriented.

The language of this story assumes the same floating stance, not quite surrealistic but vaguely wandering through the thoughts and feelings of Vincent, Fay, and eventually her son, Wright. Fay and Vincent part, and he never thinks of her until he starts getting letters from Wright, who also becomes depressed and disoriented. Fay becomes a famous rebel, joining the group Shelter, which imitates the ideology and violent protests of the well-known group called The Weathermen, who vow to destroy the Americans responsible for its role in the Vietnam War. She escapes to Ecuador as a wanted terrorist criminal. Interestingly, the Apollo program, in which Vincent is one of the prime heroes, is judged by Fay and her peers as a journalistic front to distract from the war crimes of American troops in Vietnam.

America Was Hard to Find is a beautifully strange read about the turbulent, fragmented era of the Vietnam War and the Apollo program, both of which dwarf and distort the personalities of those involved. Vincent and Fay are not exemplary characters in what is not America’s finest hour. However, they accurately depict the 1960s through the 1980s along with American patriotism and dissidence in this powerful work of historical fiction.