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Roads : Driving America's Great Highways
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684868857, Paperback)You couldn't find a blunter or more accurate title for Larry McMurtry's third work of nonfiction. Roads is indeed an automotive odyssey, in which the author traverses America on one highway after another. As such, the book has a long and honorable pedigree, stretching back to Tocqueville by way of Kerouac, and many readers will compare it to William Least Heat-Moon's bucolic ramble, Blue Highways. That, however, would be a mistake. The last thing McMurtry has in mind is a leisurely tour of small-town America--he's interested in the interstates themselves, "the great roads, the major migration routes that carry Americans long distances quickly." No wonder the speedometer seldom dips below 65 mph throughout the entire narrative. McMurtry is a man on the move, and even his meditative moments fly by in the linguistic equivalent of fourth gear.
Actually, there may be another reason the author is reluctant to apply the brakes: his distaste for various towns, villages, counties, and entire states. Planning a trip to the Texas hill country? McMurtry notes that "the soil is too stoney to farm or ranch, the hills are just sort of forested speed bumps, and the people, mostly of stern Teutonic stock, are suspicious, tightfisted, unfriendly, and mean." Missouri is "a place to get through as rapidly as possible," Ohio and Georgia "really aren't pleasant," and woe to the traveler who lingers in the one-horse towns of the West, "where it's not even wise to roll down one's windows--if you avoid getting murdered you might still breathe in some deadly desert germ."
This crankiness does have an undeniable comic appeal. Yet Roads turns out to be a sentimental journey after all, in the course of which McMurtry hopes to resurrect some of the élan vital he lost in the wake of his 1991 heart surgery. Driving, like reading itself, just may prompt some remembrance of things past:
As I prepared to drive those same overfamiliar roads again it occurred to me that my effort was obliquely Proustian, a retracing of my past that is analogous to the many rereadings I've done in the last few years, always of books I read before the surgery. In these rereadings and redrivings I'm searching, not for lost time, but for lost feelings, for the elements of my old personality that are still unaccounted for. I'm not anguished about these absentees, just curious and somewhat wistful.Indeed, anguish is largely absent from McMurtry's account, and he doesn't dwell often on this scenario of loss and recovery. Still, it comes through particularly strongly at the end, when he compares his own, transient experience of place to his father's. These final chapters cast a sadder and more substantial light on the preceding ones--and make this circuitous, sometimes tetchy book a trip worth taking. --James Marcus
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:54 -0400)
As he crisscrosses America--driving in search of the present, the past, and himself--western chronicler Larry McMurtry shares his fascination with this nation's great trails and the culture that has developed around them.
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