Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean by Philip Caputo

The literature of travel is rich with grand journeys, including explorers crossing oceans or continents to discover unknown places. In his recent book The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean, Philip Caputo refers lovingly to the expedition of Lewis and Clark on numerous pages. His own long journey, however, was more in the tradition of John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. In the 21st century, there are no blank spots left on our maps, but there are still discoveries to be made.

Late in the spring of 2011, Caputo set off from Key West, Florida with his wife and two dogs in a pickup truck pulling a vintage Airstream trailer. Their destination was Deadhorse, Alaska. With a jar, Caputo planned to mix waters from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans, as he gathered impressions of the landscape and people of the United States*. Being a journalist, he had to have a quest. He chose to discover what held our diverse nation together.

Trying to stick to back roads as much as possible, much like William Least Heat-Moon in Blue Highways, he met a great variety of people, many still struggling to recover after the economic meltdown of 2008-2009. Most were philosophical when he asked his question about national cohesion. Others denied his premise, saying that the nation was coming apart.

I listened to the audiobook, which I mostly enjoyed. Some of narrator Pete Larkin's interpretations of regional accents, however, made me cringe. I can imagine some listeners being offended, especially if they recognize themselves as the original voices.

In The Longest Road, Caputo expertly weaves his subplots of repairing the Airstream, finding good meals, walking the dogs, and sharing a very small space with his wife around the story of the journey across the continent. I particularly enjoyed the part from the Great Plains, along the Yellowstone River, and across the mountains. I think many readers will long to follow.

Caputo, Philip. The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean. Henry Holt, 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780805094466.

Audiobook. HighBridge Audio, 2013. 10 compact discs. 11 3/4 hours. ISBN 97

*He mostly zips across a stretch of Canada.

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