...[a] devastating, revelatory book ... Despite the hardships and her meager income, May is ebullient, speaking in exclamation points. 'Hell-ooo-ooo!' is her usual greeting. An indomitable spirit, she’s the perfect choice for Bruder to follow ... Bruder writes in an evenhanded, impartial tone, avoiding polemicism. She does, however, insert herself into the narrative, sometimes intrusively ... When Bruder does stand aside, Nomadland soars. Her subjects are self-sufficient, proud people. Many in their 60s and beyond, they should be entering Shakespeare’s sixth age of man, 'into the lean and slippered pantaloon/ With spectacles on nose and pouch/ On side.' Instead they are sans homes, sans money, sans security, sans everything, except their dignity and self-reliance.
What photographer Jacob Riis did for the tenement poor in How the Other Half Lives (1890) and what novelist Upton Sinclair did for stockyard workers in The Jungle (1906), journalist Bruder now does for a segment of today’s older Americans forced to eke out a living as migrant workers. ... In the best immersive-journalism tradition, Bruder records her misadventures driving and living in a van and working in a beet field and at Amazon. Tying together the book is the story of Linda May, a woman in her sixties who takes on crushing jobs with optimistic aplomb. Visceral and haunting reporting.
...an important if frustrating new work influenced by such classics of immersion journalism as Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed ... Nomadland is part of a fleet of recent books about the gig economy. More than most, it’s able to comfortably contain various contradictions ... Bruder is a poised and graceful writer. But her book is plagued by odd evasions. Take race, the major one. She writes that 'there is hope on the road' — a blinkered view in 2017, after the passage of Arizona SB 1070, which required law enforcement to request the immigration papers of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally (portions of the bill have since been overturned). Not to mention that in the light of the death of Philando Castile, among others ... These omissions don’t doom the book; but they do mark it. You ache for the Gulf War veteran who tells Bruder, 'I survived the Army. I can survive Amazon.' But you also ache for the ones without even this option, who don’t even merit a mention.