Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Longest Road


Two major life-changing events happened to Philip Caputo in 2010: he turned 70 and his father died.  The two events, especially because they occurred so close together, left Caputo speculating about his own old age and how many years might remain to him.  Realizing that he was approaching a now-or-never age, the author, accompanied by his wife, set out on a road trip he first contemplated during a 1996 visit to a remote Alaskan village.  The result is The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Artic Ocean.

During that first visit to Alaska, Caputo was struck by the idea that Eskimo children in the most remote portions of that vast state pledged allegiance to the same American flag that the children of Cuban immigrants saluted some 6,000 miles away in Key West, Florida.  How could that be?  What was the glue that held a country as large as the United States together?  Caputo and his wife, towing a vintage little Airstream trailer behind them, set off from Key West in 2011 to answer those questions for themselves.

As they make their northwestward trek across the country, Caputo gathers many different opinions about the state of the country and why people think that it still works.  Not surprisingly, most of what the author hears from his new road-buddies is not particularly deep or insightful – but it does reflect the basic, good common sense of most Americans, people that, no matter what region they live in, still have more in common than not.  The system, Caputo decides, may be more politically strained right now than it has been in decades but it still manages to hold America together.

Philip Caputo
Frankly, however, Caputo’s stated goal of explaining America’s unity does not make for a very intriguing travel book.  Fans of the genre are likely to become a bit bored by both the repetitiveness of Caputo’s questions and the responses he solicits from those he meets along the road.  More interesting are the author’s struggles with the Airstream, his other assorted problems along the road (including the difficulty of finding gasoline when he needs it), and the supreme effort he and his wife make to remain civil to each other despite their cramped quarters.  These are the things of which such an epic road trip are really made. 

Bottom Line: interesting travel book that does not quite achieve its stated goal (see the book’s subtitle) - but still worth a look, especially for fans of Caputo’s writing.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

2 comments:

  1. John Steinbeck did the same thing, but with a dog instead of his wife, in Travels with Charlie. While his book did have some good bits, it's was disapointing in the end. He even cut his intended trip a bit short and rushed through the last part of his trip.

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  2. I've been meaning to re-read Travels with Charlie for a while now, James, especially since we recently learned that a good bit of it is fiction and not memoir. I want to see if I see it through new eyes now.

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