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The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean Paperback – May 13, 2014
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*Starred Review* Miles traveled: 8,314. Vistas condemned: wind turbine farms. Vistas endorsed: the Natchez Trace and the Alaska Highway. Lesson learned: don’t drive a trailer where you can’t get it out. Such were Caputo’s concrete experiences on a 2011 road trip in search of answers to a more ethereal question, What unifies America? That query, if already asked by literary roadsters like Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck, bears repeating by writers of any stature, whether unknown or, like Caputo, renowned. Looking at age 70, Caputo felt a bucket-list impetus to drive the furthest border-to-border route in America: Key West, Florida, to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. With his pickup truck towing a symbol of highway wanderlust, an Airstream trailer, Caputo convinced his two dogs and, perhaps less quickly, his wife to climb aboard. Vowing to avoid interstates and motels, he loosely followed the historic route of Lewis and Clark. Injecting misadventures into the narrative, Caputo recounts an overland voyage that emphasizes the people he meets: Christian evangelicals; volunteers helping tornado-struck Tuscaloosa, Alabama; a Missouri farmer; residents of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; and an assortment of Alaskan eccentrics. Pithily capturing their characters and opinions about the state of America, Caputo snares reading devotees of a classic American theme, the road trip. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A new book from the Pulitzer Prize–winning Caputo, famed for his soldier’s memoir of the Vietnam conflict, A Rumor of War (1977), is always an event. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
“The ultimate road trip.” ―The Denver Post
“[An] engaging travelogue of a remarkable journey packed with plenty of intriguing tidbits for armchair travelers.” ―The Boston Globe
“A new book from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Caputo…is always an event. Pithily capturing their characters and opinions about the state of America, Caputo snares reading devotees of a classic American theme, the road trip.” ―Booklist, (starred review)
“It is a joy to read these stories. I mean that: pure joy. The Longest Road is the best thing to come along since Blue Highways and Travels with Charley.” ―Doug Stanton, New York Times bestselling author of Horse Soldiers
“[Caputo] keeps the narrative moving with his observant eye and mordant sense of humor.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“A new book from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Caputo…is always an event. Pithily capturing their characters and opinions about the state of America, Caputo snares reading devotees of a classic American theme, the road trip.” ―Booklist, starred review
“[Caputo] gives us a view not only of the 17,000 miles he traveled but of the many people with whom he spoke. The novelist and multi-award-winning journalist, whose Rumor of War was one of the defining books of the Vietnam era, should get it just right.” ―Library Journal
“A continental tale that is always engaging and frequently reassuring.” ―PW
“This reporter has more stamina in him than your average 21-year-old…Caputo creates captivating portraits of a wide variety of communities.” ―Kirkus
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Phil is an author I have long admired. I still remember reading his epic memoir “A Rumor of War” when I returned home from Vietnam, which remains the work that most, defines that war. I have enjoyed all 15 of his books and also have a special appreciation for his “Acts of Faith” and more recently “Crossers”.
Phil and Leslie begin their ultimate road-trip driving 8300 miles from the southernmost point in the United States (Key West, Florida) to the northernmost point at Deadhorse, Alaska. They were accompanied by their two English setters Sage and Sky and traveled with an old 1962 Airstream. Phil has felt America in recent years was growing in anger and division and he simply wanted to discover what is holding people together if anything.
The journey was enjoyable reading, not just for the places they visited, but the stories of the people they met. They tended to avoid the interstates and large cities so primarily the travel was through a kinder and gentler nation. He mixes humor throughout the story, especially describing various episodes of exchanges between his wife Leslie and himself. When one is married to a Leslie (which I also am) you know the road traveled will never be dull.
I am not sure if Phil really discovered the reason of anger in America or what is keeping people together, although I do know that when I finished this book I felt good and I felt happy.
And in that time I came to think of him as a sort of friend of mine. After all, I had lived with my own wife in Key West in the middle 70's and had traveled to and fro on the continent with her and a dog for ten years after that, living in a van, doing various work, fishing for trout, living among friends, and walking free on the earth.
So when I heard Mr. Caputo was writing a story about such an adventure, I had to be there with him - and his wife, and his dogs. And as a friend, his only responsibility to me was to put me out there with them in such a way that I could experience the experience in all its cold and heat and motion and texture and proximity and light and shadow and space. Forty-five years as a journeyman writer gave him the skill to do all that. And as I feel life burning within me, I could feel it emanating from him...AS him. It wasn't a novel, it wasn't a memoir, it was on the road, travels with Leslie, blue highways, Lewis and Clark, Call and McRrae. Hot damn!
The book poses a particular question as a pretext and premise for the oddysey. Mr Caputo asks the question of many people and, miracle, actually listens to and reports the answer. Then, in a completing denouement, offers a highly useful and aesthetic answer of his own.
If you don't get this book, it's because you just have to be there. It was an arc of narrative that will remain lodged in my soul.
Anyway, Caputo's take on the U.S. circa 2011 is well worth the read. Though not as deep to me as Moon's legendary "Blue Highway's" or as focused as Duncan's "Out West" (following the Lewis & Clark trail) it is a great book nonetheless. Of all the 4 (or 5 with Parkman) authors he is the only one to have human company - his wife was along to keep him in line - though he did take a dog (two actually) as did Steinbeck with his "Charley."
There are many more in depth reviews that get into more details. Suffice to say the "trip" with Caputo & family is a fascinating adjunct to update the other earlier road books.