Book review: Looking for Bigfoot (2005)

As its subtitle indicates, this blog stemmed from feeling wholly alien in an area that is a bulwark of conservative ideology. Imagine my surprise to find that one of the most radical political novels I’ve read in years comes from Sheldon, Iowa, some 70 miles away.

Mike Palecek’s Looking for Bigfoot is a no-holds-barred onslaught on the state of the America today. Palecek uses Bigfoot as a metaphor for what we tend to believe about America.

Seemingly semi-autobiographical, the novel’s protagonist, Jack Robert King, is a former seminarian who served prison time for protesting the U.S. military. He worked for a while on small town newspapers and now is a stay-at-home husband in Dyersville, Iowa, where he and his family live in the farmhouse from the movie Field of Dreams. Jack is convinced Americans spend too much time on banality to realize that the American dream and American history are the product of disinformation created and controlled by men in the shadows. He starts his own streaming radio program on the Internet called “Bigfoot Radio.” Bigfoot Radio streams in more than one sense as it is often a stream of political consciousness from “a blue state mind living in a red state universe.”

Jack becomes so obsessed with truth versus perception that his home life is falling apart. When a magazine he’s never heard of mysteriously arrives in his mailbox with a cover story about the disappearance of his former baseball coach who became a Bigfoot investigator, Jack decides he needs to find the truth. And what better way than to search for his former coach and Bigfoot? Jack’s/Palecek’s views are reflected in what Jack tells his listeners as he prepares to embark on his journey:

To go looking for Bigfoot is to go in search of the truth about America.I believe we are being manipulated minute by minute by a news media: television, print radio, that is based solely on profit, rather than the search for truth we imagine.

I believe we Americans have no idea what the truth is about our country. We know every name of the cast of “Survivor” but we do not know about the existence of “Operation Northwoods.”

* * *

I believe I have found out some things about the country I live in, and that is a freedom of sort, better than walking around in a fog.

We are criminals when we protect our bank accounts and your homes while others go without — and then call ourselves Christians.

We are liars when we go across the world, kill others and call that protecting our own freedom.

When professional athletes go on television, say at Christmas, and say thanks to the troops for protecting our freedom, that it is huge lie. They are not protecting us. They are killing for Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney and others to make the rich men even richer.

How stupid do they think we are?

The truth is not available in any newspaper stand or magazine or from the lips of Tom Brokaw.

To find the truth about America you have to look in the shadows, under the rocks, run after the loose pieces of paper blowing across the convenience store parking lot.

The truth about America is not to be found in any morning news meeting agenda for CBS.

It is to be found in the pencil scribbles of prisoners in solitary confinement in Terre Haute Penitentiary; it’s slurred on the back of a Pine Ridge liquor store receipt, and scribbled on the walls above gas station restroom toilets.

If you want to find out the truth about America you need to open your mind. You need to be ready to believe in things they laugh about on “The Tonight Show” and over morning coffee at the truck stop.

You will need to say to hell with what you guys think. To hell with you guys — there’s something out there and I’m going to find out what it is.

You need to go looking for Bigfoot — despite catcalls and in the face of neo-Nazi Brown Shirts ready to string you up from a lamp pole….

Strong stuff. Yet it is just a taste of the views Jack expresses on Bigfoot Radio and as he ponders life and America in his search for Bigfoot. And Jack doesn’t search from the isolation of a car on the highway or an airliner 30,000 feet above the country. Jack takes the bus from his Iowa home to the town in Oregon where his coach was last seen. He continues his radio program on his trip and meets compatriots (although not necessarily of identical ilk), those who oppose him and those who think he is just plain crazy. As Jack documents his search, we, too, begin to wonder whether he is crazy or there actually is something in the shadows and under the rocks.

Looking for Bigfoot expounds strong, radically left wing views. Some conservatives may call much of its content anti-American or liberal hate speech. Even liberals may disagree with some of what it says. But through Jack’s thoughts and expressions, Palecek does what a novelist — especially a political one — should do: he challenges the reader to react and think.

Jack King’s search ultimately produces a certain kind of truth for him and his family. The unanswered question is whether the reader will risk thinking, let alone go looking for Bigfoot.

Some guy went to Ground Zero and shot himself after the election.Another guy set himself on fire outside the White House.

Those are the two most honest responses to the election of George W. Bush that I have heard of.

Mike Palecek, Looking for Bigfoot

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