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I read this novel around 2020 maybe. The cover is yellowish orange and depicts a run-down city street with derelict cars and buildings, etc

A first person narrator travels from the East Coast to the Great Lakes region (this takes place in a world where the US has been split up into various regions). It's mostly about the narrator learning about how the Great Lakes region's society works. It's a kind of libertarian Eden – much preferable to the crumbling economy and society of the East Coast. A war is brewing in the south, but in the Great Lakes, as our narrator discovers, all is well and people are living a great life. It's kind of libertarian porn.

It's not Warday by Whitley Strieber.

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    Sounds like Ecotopia, except that story takes place in the Pacific Northwest. Are you sure it was the Great Lakes region? Commented May 5 at 3:27
  • Another possibility is "Warday" by Whitley Strieber (1984) But this takes place 5 years after bombs fell, the MC travels across the USA, (Starting in TX, to CA, to Midwest, to Chicago, to NY. But I don't remember what he see in Chicago. The main thing I remember is he was in NYC and saw the bombs explode there, where he survived, but received a heavy does of radiation, and deemed ineligible to receive medical care now, due to his high exposure.
    – NJohnny
    Commented May 5 at 21:53
  • I haven't read Warday. Sounds interesting, but not the book I'm looking for. The cover of the one I'm trying to find is yellowish orange and depicts a run-down city street with derelict cars and buildings, etc. Hoping that helps. Thanks for all the suggestions!
    – RobS17
    Commented May 6 at 0:36
  • Not close enough to warrant an answer, but if you mixed up some details ... at least the cover is a close match: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dies_the_Fire Commented May 6 at 8:56

3 Answers 3

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This may be Retrotopia (2016) by John Michael Greer. I found some details that seem promising in an online review.

The fictional country is called Lakeland and is in the American Midwest:

Greer’s novel is about a future nation in what is now the American Midwest that has managed to prosper by going backwards technologically. It’s 2065, and the United States long ago descended into civil war and dissolution as a result of having continued down the same shortsighted trajectory it’s on today: namely, the pursuit of infinite growth on a finite globe. Most of the handful of post-U.S.A. American nations remain fixated on this unachievable goal. However, one country, the Lakeland Republic, has chosen an alternate course. It has decided to discard the ideal of growth for its own sake as well as any technologies aimed at achieving that goal. From the perspectives of those in surrounding nations, an aura of mystery surrounds the goings-on in the Lakeland Republic. And first-time visitors often find that the mystery only deepens once they’ve set foot within the Republic’s borders.

The main character is visiting the country to investigate it from a presumably East Coast nation called the Atlantic Republic:

Retrotopia‘s plot concerns the journey, both physical and psychological, of a newcomer named Peter Carr. The neighboring country of the Atlantic Republic has just had a presidential election, and Carr is an advisor to the president-elect. In the novel’s opening scene, he’s traveling to the capitol of the Lakeland Republic, Toledo, where he is to spend the next two weeks helping draft a set of key agreements between the two governments.

I don't see the word "libertarian," but:

The Lakeland Republic is divided into counties, with each county free to fashion its own unique technological landscape. There’s a tier system of technological development, with the highest tier, five, representing 1950s-era infrastructure; and the lowest, roughly that of the 1830s. A lower tier means a lower tax burden for the county’s inhabitants, but also a more rudimentary infrastructure. The citizens of each county vote to determine which tier best suits their needs. This does not mean, however, that individual residents of a lower-tier county are prohibited from having higher-tier technologies if that’s what they wish. On the contrary, they’re quite able to do so—but they must pay out of their own pockets for the privilege.

The cover image doesn't seem very close to your description, but there is an orange streetcar.

cover of Retrotopia by John Michael Greer

It does seem to have been produced by a small press (Mud City Press).

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  • Hello, Thank you! That's the one! Funny how the memory can alter the perception of things (like the cover and a few of the details mentioned in the review). I appreciate you're finding this - did you do a search with certain key words (which is what I did with no luck) or have some other strategy? Thanks again!
    – RobS17
    Commented May 8 at 23:43
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    If this answered your question, please click the check-mark to accept it ...
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented May 9 at 0:28
  • This doesn't seem to be available in print anywhere, but I found a copy of it on line. Interesting reading, I'm about a third of the way through it. Commented May 9 at 13:39
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    @RobS17 instead of posting a "thank you" comment, please up vote (click the up arrow next to the answer) if you haven't, then click the check mark so others know this has been identified
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 9 at 16:46
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Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston, by Ernest Callenbach, 1975?

From Wikipedia:

The book is set in 1999 (25 years in the future from 1974) and consists of diary entries and reports of journalist William Weston, who is the first American mainstream media reporter to investigate Ecotopia, a small country that broke away from the United States in 1980 following an economic collapse that lead to the dissolution of the US.

The new nation of Ecotopia consists of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington; it is hinted that Southern California is a lost cause, and was most likely destroyed.

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    Hi! Thanks for the answer. I should have mentioned that I'd read Ecotopia and that the book I'm looking for shares some similarities with it. The book I'm looking for was written much more recently, though.
    – RobS17
    Commented May 5 at 6:57
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This reminds me of “World Made by Hand” by James H Kunstler.

World Made by Hand is a dystopian and social science fiction novel by American author James Howard Kunstler, published in 2008. Set in the fictional town of Union Grove, New York, the novel follows a cast of characters as they navigate a world stripped of its modern comforts, ravaged by terrorism, epidemics, and the economic upheaval of peak oil, all of which are exacerbated by global warming

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    Hi. You could improve this answer by editing it to explain how World Made by Hand matches the novel described in the question (and any ways in which it doesn't). It'd help other users decide how likely it is to be the correct answer. Commented May 5 at 15:16
  • Hello, thanks for the answer. A world made by hand is another book I've read and it's not the one I'm looking for. The mystery book takes place in a setting with a strong society and a balanced mix of modern technology and agrarian practices. It may well have been published by a small company. I did check it out of the public library, so I don't think it was self-published, but it seems to be released on a limited scope. I believe the author has at least several books out and I visited his website but now am unable to locate it.
    – RobS17
    Commented May 5 at 15:18

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