Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City…
Oklahoma’s capital is only the 27th-largest city in the country, but “you’d be hard-pressed to find a weirder one,” said Jack Hamilton in Slate.com. Sam Anderson discovered as much while writing a 2012 magazine feature on the Oklahoma City Thunder, a star-laden NBA team that had relocated from Seattle a few years earlier. Anderson learned that the Thunder’s often overlooked but odd and quintessentially American hometown had been born on a single 1889 day when its population ballooned from zero to 10,000; that its first mayor was shot dead over a land dispute; and that dramatic booms and busts have defined it ever since. His “enthralling, hilarious, and unexpectedly moving” portrait of the city “already feels like a classic of its kind.”
The aim of the book is “less to create a history of Oklahoma City than to map out its psychic space,” said David Ulin in The Washington Post. So it cuts between the sports team that projects the town’s civic identity and sketches of emblematic residents of both past and present. At the book’s heart is a recognition that OKC will always embody a bold assertion of human will in a desolate, empty land that seeks forever to blot it out. Harrison’s heroes thus include a TV weatherman Oklahomans depend on for his tornado forecasts and a civic leader who gutted most of downtown in a mid-century bid for boom-time reinvention. The book’s title evokes another boom: the 1995 terrorist bombing that killed 168 and that city residents clearly don’t like to talk about.
Anderson finally tackles that story head on with a minute-by-minute account that “left me almost in tears,” said Brian Phillips in NewYorker.com. As an Oklahoma native, I had long considered OKC too boring to write about. I was wrong. Anderson, in his enthusiasm for the forces that bind OKC together, arguably overlooks the ultraconservative politics and evangelical Christianity that forever tug it apart, but his “dizzyingly pleasurable” portrait is rooted in something real. Though my Oklahoma City is a different place, “I’m grateful to have Anderson’s.” ■