Atxaga gives us an outsider’s clear look at American life during the pre-Great Recession, making even the mundane appear strange. He sheds light on the implicit violence of a country at war (albeit a distant one), and its society’s self-absorption and self-importance, adding another dimension to his novel. Though his account is unromanticized, it is not unforgiving. And though it focuses on America a decade ago, his insights still ring true, making the book as relevant as ever ... Nevada Days is not a light-hearted book, but there is still a warmth to it. As the novel illuminates the strange in American culture, it functions as a celebration of personal relationships and community, and of the interesting cast of characters Atxaga and his family meet in Reno. The appeal of the novel comes in the collage formed by all its juxtapositions, and in how capably the narrative jumps among topics and time periods, expertly evoking their atmospheres without any overshadowing the others.
Part of the thrill of Nevada Days is to marvel at a family’s ceaseless desire to explore America at a crossroads during the limited time they have ... For the Americans he will call his neighbors, colleagues, and friends during the next nine months, this silence is what we accept as reality, what we don’t protest: military helicopters as common as hawks in the sky, the anesthetizing bad news reaching us from Iraq and Afghanistan, health insurance too expensive to afford, biased documentaries and news programs that celebrate our military history, the business of incarcerating a large percentage of Americans, elementary schools running active-shooter drills, the economic exploitation of brown bodies, sexual assaults on college campuses, etc. Atxaga becomes the frog introduced late to the boiling pot in which the rest of us obliviously sit ... One assumes that the novel was a fascinating sort of travelogue for his Basque and Spanish readers—a report on America from one of their country’s most gifted storytellers. For Americans, though, in the five years since the novel’s publication, the chronicle of Atxaga and his family’s unflagging enthusiasm as they look for this thing called America may offer us something far more necessary—what the family discovers is the prologue to the country we find ourselves in today.
His genre-blurring Nevada Days neither loves nor scorns Reno so much as mulls it over slowly, deliberately ... Atxaga’s such an engaging witness ... I found refreshing Atxaga’s bemusement toward military ceremony. It’s honest. It’s thoughtful. It’s what our country desperately needs in this era of star-spangled pomp and fake patriots ... Nevada Days serves as an inverse retelling of that western classic, and through the precision of Atxaga’s language and the truths about Nevada and America he brings forth, it certainly meets the standard set by its predecessor.