THERE'S TRAGEDY in America, and failure. Whole towns in Appalachia suffer the ravages of the coal industry, and more than a few Native American reservations struggle with the collective affliction of alcoholism. Inner cities crumble. Immigrants pick your tomatoes for far less than minimum wage. Whole landscapes of poverty speak to America's failures.
Chris Hedges (author of the excellent War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning) and Portland cartoonist Joe Sacco explore these landscapes of destitution in their book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. The book delves into economic and human catastrophes that plague a Native American reservation; Camden, New Jersey, the poorest town in the US; West Virginian coal country; and migrant workers in Florida. Hedges' words and Sacco's bleak illustrations of the landscapes and people are extremely affecting, and the book is at its best when it gives a human face (often drawn by Sacco) to America's failures. If you can read the interviews with poverty-stricken victims of capitalism and not feel anything, then you're probably some kind of monster. The book ends with a section on Occupy Wall Street, and a call to arms for nonviolent revolution.
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt suffers from feeling a bit uneven. There's little linking the various sections other than a prevailing bleakness. That bleakness is strong and dramatic enough to give the book a certain emotional coherence, and at the end of all the evidence and argumentation I was absolutely with Hedges and Sacco on an emotional level. They call for change and for nonviolent revolution, but I was left hungry for a bit more. What kind of nonviolent revolution? It was as if they presented a whole lot of evidence, and then stopped during their closing arguments.
As a portrait of poverty, the book succeeds stunningly well. However, the rousing call to action at the end felt poorly defined. One needs to know if there's an alternative, and Hedges and Sacco don't offer one. Admittedly, that might be outside the scope of their fairly specific project—but after showing off all the horrors and sadness of America so deftly, they leave it all hanging. As much as I wanted to be with Days of Destruction all the way, it very much stopped rather than ended. As heavy and dark as the subject matter was, the book ends with the lingering feeling of being too light.