On the Road
Jim Harrison's new road novel prompts memories of a multitude of travel guides and essays, from de Tocqueville to the present.
One of the pleasures of reading Harrison is that his character’s first-person ruminations are honest and sage and frequently amble to the funny side. For example, sexwhich is still (I hope) a vital part of the human experienceis given its proper, deep-breathing due. In this case, even for a 60-year-old geezer. Throughout, Harrison scribes a lively balance between the way English major/mentor Cliff observes and comments on both his outer and inner peregrinations.
By the way, here are some of the renamed states: New York/Iroquois, Georgia/Creek, Oklahoma/Cherokee, Florida/Seminole, South Dakota/Lakota, Wyoming/Cheyenne.
You get it, right?
Speaking of road trips and road booksthe quintessential American activity since de Tocqueville, whose 1830s trip has since been reiterated by Richard Reeves (American Journey) in the 1980s and recently by Bernard-Henri Lévy (American Vertigo) in the 21st century, Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, claiming inspiration from the New Deal’s WPA’s state guides, corralled 50 writers to write about the 50 states for State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of Americaincluding a wonderful bonus of a conversation with Edward P. Jones on Washington, D.C.
I leave it to you to ponder the odd couplings, but my vote goes to Dagoberto Gilb writing on Iowa. It should not go unnoted that in 1922 The Nation launched a series of articles on each state, written by a diverse and contentious gaggle of writersEdmund Wilson (New Jersey), Theodore Dreiser (Indiana), H.L. Mencken (Maryland), W.E.B. DuBois (Georgia), Willa Cather (Nebraska), and Sinclair Lewis (Minnesota)which was anthologized in two volumes in 1923 and 1924 as These United States. In 2003 The Nation repeated that project, edited by John Leonard, with the likes of Frank Conroy, James Lee Burke, Luc Sante, Mike Davis, Ana Castillo, Jim Grimsley, Rosario Ferré, Larry Watson, Elizabeth Benedict, and Donald Hall.
All this leaves me wondering when someone will get the bright idea for the Last American Road Trip