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The Dog of the South Paperback – June 5, 2007
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Hapless, rhetorically challenged Ray Midge would more than fulfill any novel's quota for comic creation. But Portis pairs him with another indelible nutter, Dr. Reo Symes. A font of dubious financial schemes, Symes attaches himself to Ray like a peevish, passive-aggressive Pancho Sanza, and his non-sequitur-studded riffs must be heard to be believed:
I always tried to help Leon and you see the thanks I got. I hired him to drive for me right after his rat died. He was with the Murrell Brothers Shows at that time, exhibiting a fifty-pound rat from the sewers of Paris, France. Of course it didn't really weigh fifty pounds and it wasn't your true rat and it wasn't from Paris, France, either. It was some kind of animal from South America. Anyway, the thing died and I hired Leon to drive for me. I was selling birthstone rings and vibrating jowl straps from door to door and he would let me out at one end of the block and wait on me at the other end.The vibrating jowl straps are the kicker here, of course. But it's the overall futility of the enterprise that gives Symes his comic potency, and makes him Ray's natural companion in arms. Neither of these guys is going to accomplish anything: they're Beckett clowns in Sansabelt trousers, too enervated by the heat even to agonize. Still, you won't find a more delicious (or less reliable) narrator in contemporary fiction, and Charles Portis's genius for inventing all-American eccentrics is anything but futile. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Imagine my joy at being enfolded in Charles Portis' marvelous universe once again, where a man puts plastic bags on his junkyard dog's feet because the dog doesn't like getting his feet wet;old men in big shoes and smocks hollar outside motel rooms, and, when confronted say, "I'm just fooling around," and missionaries politely disagree over who is more destructive: human beings or goats.
This book is a million laughs. Readers of NORWOOD might find some similarities between the narrator/protagonist and Norwood's brother-in-law Bill Bird.
This relatively sparse outline of a plot sets a wonderful story in motion, as Midge follows the trail of his wife's credit card receipts to follow them to Central America, ostensibly to get his car back. Along the way Midge meets a zany ex-doctor, named Symes, a loony Louisiana character who seems to me right off the pages of John Kennedy Toole's masterpiece Confederacy of Dunces.
It is difficult to explain the plot and the characters, it is simply a parade of oddball characters and circumstances. Ray looks out the window at some pelicans, and one gets hit by lightning. He makes polite conversation to a kid, asking him "How many states have you seen?" and the kid inexplicably snarls back "More than you!" Every meeting and social interaction takes a somewhat unexpected, but strangely believable turn so there was something to enjoy and chuckle about on every page.
The novel is also full of wry observations and bits of wisdom, like when the narrator warns readers to turn glasses or mugs with handles to the left, as if you were left-handed, since the side of the cup you are sipping has come into contact with fewer human mouths. Portis' outlook is offbeat to be sure, but there's a zany truth to much of it.
This was my first encounter with Portis' work, much of which is in the process of being re-released (the book was written in the mid 70's), and if Dog of the South is any example Portis is a writer who begs to be rediscovered by modern readers looking for a comedic road trip story.