June 23, 2013
The Longest Road by Philip Caputo
There's something so American about hauling an Airstream across the United States. And that's what Caputo does in this book with his wife and their two dogs. A travel memoir of sorts, he wants to find out what makes America tick.
Starting at Key West and going all the way to Deadhorse, Alaska, Caputo wants to journey across America to find out what the glue that holds it altogether is. He also wants to capture water in a water-bottle from all the different oceans surrounding America as a lesser goal. In his travels his goal was to take a concise route, but still allow some room for freedom to visit interesting things. And he also wanted to take Lewis & Clark's trail West as he likes the history that surrounds them. Through all this he'll have to put up with the Airstream, a temperamental truck, his wife, and their two dogs who travel with them.
Caputo is very fond of himself, but he acknowledges that in the way he jokes about himself as well. His wife he is also very fond of, but lets you know that he only agrees with her to placate her sometimes, and to me the way he did it came off a bit condescending. He does meet a lot of interesting people on the road, but the way he interviews them is a bit disjointed, like he wanted to say what they were saying but had trouble fully expressing their personality or even focused on their physical features more than what they had to say. I really didn't care what these people looked like so much as what they had to say about America, and I didn't feel I really got that from this book. And the amount of time he devoted to talking about his one dog almost outdid some of the people he meets on the trip.
In terms of travel it was an interesting book. He mentions some places I had never heard of before and added to my mental list of things to see and do. But he skips around so much and the pace is so fast that it wasn't all-absorbing. Being that the author is a Pulitzer winner I guess I was expecting a bit more, even though this is the first book I've read of his (and maybe the other books were more in his preferred genre). Between the history lessons, the snippets of popular facts, the drama of the road, and the brief interviews he does, it was almost as if this book didn't know what genre it wanted to be. And I certainly didn't feel he found the glue of what held America together. It's almost as if that goal fell by the wayside. He is a funny writer though and while there wasn't a smooth pace to this book it was still easy enough to read.
I'd say this is more for the travel and personal memoir genre than it is as a social commentary on America and how it is surviving in the current times. While there is a little bit of that in here it isn't cohesive enough to be the book's main theme.
The Longest Road