Sunday, 3 April 2011

Mr B's 2011 Reading Journey Book 4 (Arkansas) - The Dog of the South by Charles Portis

After my annual Bath Lit Fest and aftermath blogging hiatus I'm back to prove I haven't just stopped reading.

From Texas, oddly, I decided to briefly go North to Arkansas, mainly because, with "True Grit" competing strongly in the Oscars, I really wanted to read Charles Portis' other novel in print in the UK, "The Dog of the South". It's not exactly evocative of Arkansas, but the plot description of a man who, taking his route from the locations on stolen credit card receipts, is about to set off from his home in Arkansas, south across Texas towards the Mexican border in pursuit of his wife and her ex who have run off together in his car.

It sounded like a genuinely funny road trip novel and, to a point, it is. The narrator Ray Midge is a very mellow character who somehow keeps his search for the errant Norma on course despite being joined by increasingly bizarre traveling companions. For the final phase of his trip to Belize (where Norma and her beau - another character who turns out to be seriously unhinged - have apparently ended up) Midge gives a ride to Dr Reo Symes. The latter is definitely the novel's most peculiar character and their conversations on the road South contain some hilarious exchanges. The deluded, borderline bankrupt and opinionated Symes has some particularly ingenious views to share on the subject of reading when defending what he views as the greatest book of all time "With Wings as Eagles" by John Selmer Dix (a self-help manual on the subject of sales).

Midge: "They say Shakespeare was the greatest writer who ever lived"
Symes: "Dix puts William Shakespeare in the shithouse"

"The doctor went on and on. He said all other writing, compared to Dix's works, was just 'foul grunting'"

Comic literary criticism aside though, the book's appeal waned a little, for me at least, as it neared its climax. It stays eccentric and the cast of oddball (and not very likeable) characters keeps expanding, but at the expense of the momentum of the original plot.

And on the vital subject of aesthetics, I like the cover I have (above) but I wish I'd known about this brand new one which has just come in.

No comments: