Sunday, February 29, 2004

Roads by Larry McMurtry

Roads is a book that I will buy another copy of. While the first one will go onto my shelf, alongside all of McMurtry's other works, this second copy has a different fate in store. Roads is a book that I want to keep in my car. I want to paste a US roadmap to outside (like book covers in school) and annotate each highway and interstate segment with the page number on which he offers commentary on that artery. It would be great to always have this book with you while you were on a roadtrip.

Roads contains a dozen essays, each one of which is just a chronological ramble on LMM's drives from one place to another. His usual sardonic wit and attention to social structure and mannerisms is present on every page. He is rarely positive about any place he drives through. In addition, his fearsome arsenal of literary memories is brought to bear every few pages as he quotes, quips, and quibbles with and about the various author's whose hometowns he visits. He indicts Hemmingway's third wife for her tacky taste in furniture, praises Willa Cather's Arizona & Nebraska. In almost every county he explores, LMM is able to talk fluently about the works of those author's whose writings mention a particular landmark. I'd love to hear a conversation between he and Mrs. Anne Fadiman.

This book is also likely to be of interest to any other McMurtry scholars out there because of it's deep biographical component. He doesn't hesitate to remnisce (seldom elegaic, usually half-way bitterly) about those places which have touched his life when he passes through them. As a companion piece to In A Narrow Grave, this book serves to, in a sense, chronicle the last 20 years of LMM's mental progress (why do I want to use the word decay there?), literary adventures, and geographical wandering. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Travels with Charley by my beloved Steinbeck, and Lars Somebody's Travels with Lizbeth, written much later. Like those, this book is a travelogue, describing one man's undirected journeys across America; both the geographical patchwork of highways, roads, and interstates, and the far more interesting network of books, loves, and memories.