Saturday, January 27, 2018

Travels with Charley: In Search of America - John Steinbeck

So I still love Steinbeck, and I enjoyed this book for what is was, but on the other hand it didn't knock my socks off or anything. It's ostensibly the author's "search for an authentic America" but it is more about his random encounters while traveling around "incognito" (he doesn't tell people who he is, etc.) Maybe it's that subtitle that bothers me; if it wasn't there I wouldn't expect him to describe, you know, America, as opposed to his custom-built camper and his dog - I would have just enjoyed the story on that level if I hadn't been looking for some kind of analysis.

To be fair, the author does bemoan what we nowadays call the "mallification of America" - even back in 1960 regional differences were starting to get wiped out in favor of some kind of uniform cookie-cutter same-chain-stores-in-every-town culture like the one we have today. There is also some social commentary on racism, particularly as it relates to the desegregation of the south that was actively taking place in the early 60s. This seemed very Steinbeckian but it wasn't very in character with the rest of the book; it seemed sort of tacked on, like he wrote a book about his travel misadventures and then decided he had to make it socially relevant. In fact, there is one character that he describes interacting with that I don't think existed; I think this character was a work of fiction Steinbeck added to help him make a point. I don't begrudge him that but it all just seemed like it should have, or could have, been part of a different book.

All in all I guess I would say that there were parts of this book that made me laugh, and I didn't dislike it, but it isn't my favorite book by him at all.

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