Neither a novel nor a collection of stories, The Blue Guide to Indiana belongs to a unique category: the fake travel book. Michael Martone, a graduate of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, hides fictions within nonfiction-style prose to create an artificial Hoosier State. To buttress the hoax, the book's credits page lists nine other books by Martone — only two of them actual — and fake blurbs on the back cover complete the deception. Martone serves up his falsehoods with such realistic descriptions that they're almost believable, yet they're too fabulous, too hilarious in their irony. According to the guide, the state's one doorman expects a yearly Christmas present and "his current hat, collar, and waist size are posted on the day after Thanksgiving at the corner of Washington and Meridian in a third floor window of the old L.S. Ayres building in Indianapolis."
The Blue Guide offers practical tips for seeing the World's First Parking Lot: "Plan for an early arrival and allow at least two hours for the visit." Motorists are advised to change their tires at the state line to accommodate Indiana's narrow highway gauge. The book is a subtle satire of historic sites and the tourism trade, and Martone's impersonation of travel writing is pitch perfect.
The Blue Guide's Death Tour includes the Cemetery at Naked City, "a final resting place for hundreds of this nation's most enthusiastic sun-enthusiasts, all of whom have been interred here in the nude." The Federal Research and Testing Center for Coffin and Casket Standards tests silk linings for flame resistance and "special machines repeatedly slam lids." (When Martone published this piece as a feature article in an Indiana newspaper, he was contacted by a Washington Post reporter who was researching little-known federal facilities — a testimony to Martone's achievement in passing off fiction as fact.)
Martone invents an Indiana that might exist in an alternate universe, where such sites as the Field of Light Bulbs or the Camouflage Fashion Center would be commonplace. In his South Bend, The Philadelphia Story is shown each midnight to avid fans who recite the dialogue along with the actors. The facility housing the Mothball Fleet of Garbage Trucks lacks trash receptacles. Underground Levittown, a subterranean suburb located in a former coal mine, has its own churches, movie theaters, shopping centers, and ZIP code, one quarter-mile beneath the city of Evansville. Nearly 400 families enjoy its affordable housing and 70 degree ambient air temperature. The attractions in Eli Lilly Land, a planned theme park, include the Possible Side Effects Funhouse and the Gelatin Capsule House of Horrors.
Martone elevates the ordinary to absurdity (the Trans-Indiana Mayonnaise Pipeline) while celebrating the absurd in its ordinariness (the License Plate Insurrection). Or maybe it's the other way around.
Thomas Bligh writes for the City Paper, where this review originally appeared. Send comments to [email protected].