This book gets off on the wrong foot. It is dedicated to a dead dog. The dedication also extends to the author's wife, but the dead dog, which was the author's companion for the first part of his trip, gets top billing. The page of acknowledgements is clotted with phrases like "a true story about the greatness of America", "a great and caring family," and "the fantastic National Geographic Society" (which furnished the author with a camera and published his article on the trip).

Though he admits he is no writer, Jenkins is mum about his other faults -- mawkishness and a staggering lack of originality. His book is crammed with potentially interesting experiences that are squelched in the telling. Take, for instance, Jenkins' first visit to a rurla North Carolina church in the company of the black family he rooms with for several weeks. How does a college-educated WASP raised in sophisticated Greenwich, Connecticut, react to a two-hour dose of ecstatic black Christianity? "Of all the cool things," he writes, "this service surpassed every far-out and turned-on experience I'd always held close to my snobby heart."

But the blame lies more with his editors than with Jenkins. They should have furnished him with a tape recorder and a ghostwriter. At the very least, they should have steered him through a massive rewriting, sufficient to keep his sentimentality and callowness from swamping his material. And they should have toned doen his title. A Walk Across America takes Jenkins only from New York to New Orleans. It's just a walk across a few notches in the Sun Belt. (Morrow, $12,95)