“Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream” …and the start of weeks of bad dreams for me

Okay, yes, I know. This is another book review. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to talking shit about video games shortly. But for now, another book review is in order.

I started reading Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream thinking that I was in for a comedic shitshow full of small-town quarrels revolving around some exotic animals. While my understanding of the subject matter was pretty much correct (though far from complete), this book is anything but a comedy. Sure, there are some chuckles to be had here and there – but the story almost immediately takes a turn for the tragic and never strays off course.

I’m not going to lie: this book, to me, was an unrelenting torrent of sadness and fear and anxiety and anger. I felt an enormous amount of sympathy for the animals kept at the zoo. I worried what affect maintaining the zoo had on the people who worked there. I wanted to reach into the book and slap the board of directors in charge of the whole situation. When I got to the end of the book and wasn’t sure if the ending was a happy one or not, I realized just how real this book felt. (That’s a good thing, I suppose, since it’s nonfiction.) Sometimes life is just one catastrophe after another, and this book captures that unfortunate truth absolutely perfectly.

When I was done reading this, I was exhausted. I’m pretty sure it took an actual toll on my psyche. And I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

Well, I guess I do have one complaint: I wish the author, Carson Vaughan, hadn’t tried to Tarantino the book by starting with the end of the story. Knowing the conclusion before actually getting into the story only diminished the impact of the ending – I don’t feel it added any value to the book. If the story had simply started at the beginning and built up to the chaos that occurred at Zoo Nebraska, the last few chapters would have been so much more devastating. Starting the book with such a tragedy certainly got my attention… but at what cost?

Despite my questions about what could have been when it comes to the ending of the book, I cannot recommend this story enough. Whoever you are – if you visited the zoo as a kid and have lived in the surrounding area your entire life, or if you’ve never heard of this story before in your life, or even if you read every newspaper article and watched the reports on TV when everything went to hell – read this book. You just might want to have a box of Kleenex’s handy when you do.

…So, after struggling to find something to read for most of the beginning of the year, I’ve now read two books back-to-back that I found to be fucking excellent. I know that this streak can’t continue, so I’m just going to savor it while I can. Feels good, man.

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