Tuesday, July 23, 2013

THE LONGEST ROAD by Philip Caputo

“It’s almost as good as being there” - I’ve said that about some things - a film or a painting.  Now, add to that list “The Longest Road” by Philip Caputo, the story of his epic drive across America, literally from one end to the other.  He perfectly captures not only places but people, their voices and their opinions of America today.  He’s a keen observer armed with a quick sense of humor - the ideal travel companion.  And, when finishing the book I really felt it was almost as good as being there.

Perhaps Caputo inherited his enchantment with the road from his father who was a traveling machinist for a canning company.  Each summer the family would be bundled into the car and join his dad for three months as he traveled from town to town.  Caputo loved those times.  After his dad died Caputo remembered his dad’s description of his work: “There was nothing like it.  To be in a car with everything you need, nothing more, and an open road in front of you.”
So in 2011 filled with sadness due to his father’s death and approaching 70 Caputo decided to fulfill a dream of his own and perhaps answer a question: with all of the problems besetting our nation, a feeling of fragmentation across the country, what in the world keeps us together?  In his words, “What made the pluribus unum?”

To do this he would have to drive a total of 11,741 miles.  This he did in a rented Airstream camper accompanied by his wife, Leslie, and two English setters.  He drove from Key West, Florida to Deadhorse, Alaska.  Along the way he interviewed a host of different people from small towns along his route - a husband/wife missionary team, a still hopeful young man on an Indian reservation, teenagers on a commune, and many more.  Americans all - each with an idea of what keeps us together.

His prose at times is almost poetic as he describes the beauty of our land as seen on roads less traveled.  He is reminded of Cather’s words, “Men travel faster now, but I do not know if they go to better things.”  Many of the words spoken by those he met will remain with you.  Truly, The Longest Road is a journey to the heart of America.  Enjoy!

- Gail Cooke

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