Sunday, July 14, 2013
*The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, From Key West to the Arctic Ocean, by Philip Caputo
Henry Holt, 2013
arc via LibraryThing early reviewers and Henry Holt
(but I bought one, too!)
"Hope...Isn't that what it's always been?"
My many thanks to LT's early reviewer program and to Henry Holt for my review copy.
When I started reading this book, I was explaining to my erstwhile spouse that it was a book about a guy and his wife who took to the open road with an Airstream in tow to go from the southernmost point to the northernmost in the US. I told him that it sounded like a really cool trip, and that I was a little jealous that people can just pick up and go where they want to when they want to. His response was something along the lines of "well, after we retire..." and then I heard the words "a year" and "RV" and that was as far as I let that conversation go. A) it's forever until retirement, B) I couldn't be uprooted that long away from home, and C) my daughter gave me two conditions for disowning me as a mother: starting to wear Christmas snowman sweaters and hopping in a motor home to tour the country when I get old. Still, reading about someone else's adventures on a very long journey is always interesting, especially when it's tied up neatly in such a tale as this one. The Longest Road is not just another travelogue; it's an exploration of America's backroads and more to the point, its people. Aside from only a few minor issues I'll get to shortly, it's a very good read.
The author's father once said that there was nothing like being "in a car with everything you need, nothing more, and an open road in front of you." Jack Kerouac wrote "Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is so ever on the road." When Caputo's father, who loved being on the road himself, died, the author realized at age 69 that a lot of his own life was behind him, and he pondered about life ahead. He came up with this crazy idea to go from the southernmost point in the United States (Key West) to the country's northernmost point in Alaska, not "purely for the adventure" but rather to discover what people across this country think holds us (as a nation) together in a time when we are so torn apart on several issues. His intention is not to "take the pulse of the nation," an impossible task, but to ask his question to the people he meets along the way. His vehicle of choice for the journey is a leased, classic Airstream trailer, "wanderlust made visible and tangible." With his wife and two dogs in tow, he made his long journey, choosing to mainly follow America's backroads and highways, following the journey made by Lewis and Clark as much as possible to the west coast. Along the way he meets a wide variety of people, visits places and does things he's never before experienced.
As someone who also loves to travel America's backroads and smaller highways, camp, stop in at mom-and-pop eateries and start conversations with perfect strangers I meet, this book definitely appealed to me. I would love to retrace Mr. Caputo's footsteps/tire tracks someday, but since that's probably not ever going to happen, reading about his journey is almost as good. His descriptions of places I've been are right on the money, but it's the people he meets that keep things really interesting. "Listening" to them and hearing what they have to say about America, their communities and themselves is an eye opener. There are funny parts to this book and some where you just want to cry. I'd love to hear this as an audio book with the author doing the reading.
Just a few minor niggles: a) while I happen to share many of the author's points of view, I can see how his political musing might be a turnoff for some people who don't -- I felt the emphasis should have been more on what other Americans thought, considering the premise of his adventure; and b) a map would have been extremely helpful -- I had my Ipad on my lap looking at each highway, each road, each town, etc.where a map could have provided a one-stop visual representation of the trip.
All in all, The Longest Road is an enjoyable read, and I've selected this book for one of my book group's choices for the fall. Definitely recommended; try not to let the politics get in the way of the rest of the journey.