We’ve all heard the stories. We just pan them off as the ravings of conspiracy nuts or crazies. Who really killed JFK, RFK and MLK? What was the role of the government in Waco, Ruby Ridge or even 9/11? Do those things we think we see in the periphery of our vision really exist? You know, like Bigfoot. Does he exist or is he simply a figment of some wacko’s imagination?
Bigfoot serves as the metaphor in Mike Palecek’s Looking for Bigfoot, a no-holds-barred onslaught on the state of America today. The novel’s protagonist, Jack Robert King, is a former seminarian who served prison time for protesting the U.S. military. He worked briefly for small town newspapers and now is a stay-at-home husband in Dyersville, Iowa. Jack and his family live in the farmhouse that was in the movie Field of Dreams and watch the tourists flow in and out of the various parts of the field that are carved up among various business enterprises.
Jack is a writer, although he isn’t quite sure what he’s writing or how far he’s getting. Despite living in the Hollywood metaphor for heaven, 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.” Yet this is a radical blue state mind talking.
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:
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.”
* * *
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….
Those are strong sentiments. Yet they are some of the milder views Jack expresses on Bigfoot Radio and as he ponders life and America in his search. 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 seems to at least stem from Palecek’s own experiences. Like his protagonist, Palecek is a former seminarian, lives in rural Iowa, worked for a variety of small town newspapers and served jail and federal prison time for civil disobedience in military protests. As his book reflects, Palecek holds strong views on where America stands in the world. He, in fact, ran for Congress on the Democrat ticket in 2000 on an anti-military, anti-prison, pro-Hispanic immigration platform. As those positions don’t play well in rural America, his Republican opponent beat him by more than a 2-1 margin but Palecek still managed to pull in nearly 68,000 votes.
Looking for Bigfoot expounds strong, radically left wing views. Some conservatives may call 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.