I wanted to adore this book as I adore Mr. Steinbeck, but I must confess, I did not. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the traveler’s perspective and observations, but it didn’t leave me panting for more as The Grapes of Wrath did. Please don’t conclude that I am among the naysayers who believe this to be a work of fiction, rather than non-fiction. To them I say, pshaw…And not to worry, I have every intention of devouring much more of Steinbeck’s prolific works.
Perhaps it was intended as a sauntering tale as that was certainly the book’s feel. While this could have been read quickly, I felt it was meant to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace as the trip with Charley was, so I matched that rhythm in my reading and felt quite content doing so.
Following Hurricane Donna, Steinbeck sets out from his Sag Harbor home with his dog Charley for a trip across America in a camper equipped for such travels and overstocked with food, clothing, liquor and writing materials including a typewriter and dictionaries. The camper, aptly named Rocinante in homage to Don Quixote’s horse, becomes home and transport in search of America.
Steinbeck keenly observes his surroundings and vividly describes what he sees in great detail. From elk in Maine to border patrol bureaucrats, from the Wisconsin Dells to the Badlands, from Yellowstone to the Mojave Desert, Steinbeck paints it all vividly on the page. He also describes the people he encounters with humor and insight. What stood out was his introspective moments; questioning his motives for the trip and his ability to see it through, being terrified at footsteps outside his camper one evening and his disgust upon realizing the hitchhiker he’s picked up is a racist.
As an adoring fan, I’d love to take a little road trip with Mr. Steinbeck. Perhaps I could convince him to join me on a trip down Route 66 where we’d surely encounter some beautiful country and interesting people. Of course, I’d also take the opportunity to ask about his writing inspirations. I would most certainly get my kicks.
My rating for Travels with Charley in Search of America is an 8 out of 10.
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Next up, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden…