Though Henry Miller’s book on Greece, The Colossus of Maroussi, is generally regarded as his greatest achievement, he also wrote a second travel book which should be regarded as a definite classic of the genre.
The Air-Conditioned Nightmare chronicles Miller’s return to America in 1939, hot on the heels of the Greek trip referred to above, and from what he believed would be an open-ended life in France. The journey begins on a note of hope: “I wanted to have a last look at my country and leave it with a good taste in my mouth. I didn’t want to run away from it, as I had originally. I wanted to embrace it, to feel that the old wounds were really healed.” Instead, he finds despair: a nation where giant industries deaden the lives of their workers while polluting the environment, and a population which seeks nothing greater than credit, cheap cars, and vapid mass consumerism. It says a great deal that many of Miller’s scathing critiques are just as relevant today.
And yet the book contains a note of hope. It’s also a celebration of those rare individuals — eccentrics, artists, and creative people of all stripes — whose stubborn resilience represents everything that made the nation great in the first place.
A few years after this trip, Miller finally made peace with the land of his birth. He found his paradise in Big Sur, California, and that is where he lived out the rest of his life.