(Kris Saknussemm reads at Elliott Bay Book Company tonight and at a special book launch party tomorrow night at Naked City Brewery & Taphouse. Both events are free. You should go to at least one of them.)

Casper, an albino ex-preacher who used to tour with a road show under the name Reverend America, wanders through a United States that barely exists anymore in modern fiction. It's a country where losers travel from shitty town to shitty town by Greyhound bus, smoking cigarettes and reading the Weekly World News and "girlie magazines" while worrying about the state of their souls. It's practically as if the internet or, hell, cable television doesn't exist in Reverend America (Dark Coast Press, $16.95)—it's earthy, grimy, and proud of its own flabby imperfections, like a '70s exploitation film set to paper. There was a time when fictional men and women grew all their hair as long as they could and wondered, earnestly, about what America meant; Reverend America tries to answer those big, vague questions.

Kris Saknussemm, the author of Reverend America, isn't on some kind of cutesy nostalgia kick. His other novels, especially the dystopian Zanesville, tackled the same ideas, but Reverend America feels more complete, a thesis statement on old-fashioned salvation from the days before politics reared up and ate religion whole. Casper wanders around, noting that mind-fucking impossibilities like restaurant signs promising "Catfish Chicken" are "what America [is] so good at." Though he's basically defrocked, Casper earnestly tries to help others he meets on the way, such as a woman who lost her child to illness and has been carrying a broken doll around for three years to ease her anguish...

(Keep reading.)