Roads : Driving America's Great Highways
by Larry Mcmurtry
Release Date: 05 June, 2001
Northern Michigan is the Maine of the midwest. Larry McMurtry prefers broad well-traveled roads to the blue lines favored by Annie Proulx and William Least Heat-Moon. McMurtry likes to cite earlier travel writers.
The Pacific Northwest is determinedly downscale. Going to L.A. is enjoyable because of the confusion. Between Ontario and Barstow is Victorville, famous as the Home of the Western, site of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum. Route 40 is now essentially a truck road.
A favorite place of the author's is Key Largo. He find Miami heavy work. He takes us to Hemingway's house in Key West. He does not like the furniture, it has a night club feel, and the library is improbable. Maybe the nondescript books were bought to fill out the shelves.
The author had heart surgery in December, 1991, and it was a sort of death. Places for him now have a before and after feel to them by association to the chronological events of his life. In Washington McMurtry had been shocked by the desperate ambition of the social, the journalistic, elite. McMurtry is funny. The research triangle is home to the yuppie redneck. He calls the government workers inching their way home to Fairfax, Vienna, and Falls Church the ant people.
For a brief time in his childhood the author experienced travel as a slow activity. He does not really care about the make or the model of the car, but he does love driving. McMurtry has looked at many places quickly, his father looked at one place deeply.
Tour the USA with a Chevrolet is an advertising slogan from the past and a kind of unconscious command to consider a tour of the USA in the company of Larry McMurtry. In the course of such a tour you will learn or relearn points about geography and roads and, more importantly, points about book writers and booksellers of particular interest to anyone who reads deeply and widely. For example, Seattle is the reason to celebrate Raymond Carver and Theodore Roethke. Like the author's description of Clancy Sigal's GOING AWAY he gets the right amount of history and feeling on a single page.
Some folks say the Interstate Highway System finally made it possible to travel from one coast of America to the other without seeing anything.
But "Roads," Larry McMurtry's new collection of essays, part Jack Kerouac, part William Least Heat Moon, part travelogue, part memoir, offers a glimpse of places as remote as the human heart.
This collection of essays is not as much about roads as restlessness. His routine is simple: McMurtry flies someplace, rents a car and drives home to lonesome Archer City, Texas. On his dawn-to-dusk superhighway sojourns, never slowing down for three-calendar diners, tourist traps or even to visit friends, he won't even turn on the radio. The journey itself is his destination. It's about going, not stopping.
At a level as uncomplicated as a farm-to-market road, the highways of McMurtry's collection are merely threads binding together his diverse musings on Los Angeles, manifest destiny, Hemingway's furniture, the need for rattlesnakes, the callowness (and shallowness) of contemporary Hollywood, cowboys, young killers in the Heartland, old books, fatherhood, the yellow housepaint in Key Largo, great rivers, the Holy Tortilla, and short remembrances of several dead characters from his stories. His prose has the quality of conversation on a long, long drive: a meandering, intimate, unfettered discourse inspired by the passing landscape.
But in a larger sense, "Roads" is a metaphor for the circular journey of McMurtry's life. It leads him to, from and through places where he considered roads not taken, or where his personal or literary paths crossed others, or simply where the quality of light through his windshield illuminated a memory.
"Roads" can be read as a natural sequel to "Walter Benjamin": The boy who never read Hemingway or Faulkner until he went to college now takes to the open road as a man to ponder their legacies -- and his own.