Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Live from America - It's Saturday Night

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Live from America - It's Saturday Night

Article excerpt

Saturday Night. By Susan Orlean, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 258 pp., $19.95

THE phrase alone - Saturday night - entices, brings a smile, a sigh of relief from the week's drudgery.

It's the time most anticipated by Americans - rich and poor, black and white, kids and adults, from corn country to concrete sidewalks.

It's the night of the week that accounts for more money spent, fewer phone calls, more dates, fewer TV shows watched, more murders, fewer suicides, more diets broken, more dancing in church, and more cats falling from Manhattan windows than any other night.

Susan Orlean is an expert on Saturday night, in particular how Americans celebrate this night which had its start in Assyria in 7 BC, when one day was set aside as the "evil day."

In "Saturday Night," Orlean takes readers on a whiz-bang tour of several dozen spots where locals whoop it up, workers rake it in, women hunt husbands, dieters binge, prisoners go on dates, and religious people convert. The author turns up tidbits from beneath steeples in the deep South to behind steering wheels on a Midwestern Main Street.

Her report: Whether at work, play, or in prison, Americans "act differently on Saturday night for no reason other than it's Saturday night."

Orlean's research is original and ambitious, and her findings wonderfully entertaining. Choosing her two subjects - leisure and average citizens - Orlean bucks America's obsessions with work and celebrity. Yet her characters become stars.

Orlean is a keen observer, a first-rate fly-on-the-wall with a sense of humor and a compassion for humanity. Her study goes beyond activities and gives us the characters who do them. A nation unfolds through the lives and loves of dozens of Americans.

Through conversation, description of dress and local geography, and bits of family history, the writer allows the characters to reveal themselves - sometimes to their own surprise. Orlean is a good reporter; her prose is clean and informative. …

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