Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey

I became a William Least Heat-Moon (real name William Lewis Trogdon) fan by reading Blue Highways and then later Riverhorse. Then I tried reading PrairyErth (written between those two books) but ended up giving up halfway through and giving the book away. So when I saw this book on the shelf in the bookstore with a gift certificate shortly to expire burning a hole in my pocket, I decided to gamble and blow it on this book. Though it turned out to be well worth the points spent, I guess I'm glad that I didn't fork over the money myself.

I was disappointed that this book wasn't a travelogue as Blue Highways and Riverhorse but rather a series of stories from road trips with very little about the journey. The stories were good and I enjoyed reading them but I was disappointed to not learn more about the journey itself.

Another disappointing thing in this book is that Heat-Moon seems to be self absorbed with every page and evidently gets great satisfaction from using obscure words that require many trips to the dictionary. I am impressed with his vocabulary but what happened to the everyman's language he used in the classic Blue Highways? Having to stop four or five times a page to look up words distracted me greatly from enjoying the book. Sometimes he took great pains to rearrange sentence structure so that they must be read several times to understand. More than once, I would get to the bottom of a page and realize that I had just mentally slipped off into Neverland and had to reread it to get the meaning. The odd thing about this trait is that in all the audio interviews that I have heard, he does not speak at all like he writes in the Roads to Quoz. What he wrote was most definitely intentional and thus why I think he unnecessarily goes out of his way to do so.

On the plus side, I have always been impressed with Heat-Moon's ability to write about something mundane and turn it into a good story. As he wrote on p. 431, "It was one of those places a visitor will later describe with a sentence beginning, it was one of those places." He can sniff out and find a story where no story exists and do it with ease. Roads to Quoz is no exception where he writes stories about the meaning of quoz, a man who pleasures old women for money to build a kids school, following the Ouachita River valley, riding bicycles on abandoned railroad tracks, pickle pie, the murder of William Grayson, an artist named Indigo Rocket and many more. As always the stories, when he doesn't get too sidetracked which happens more and more often, are fascinating and slices of Americana.

Overall, it was a good book and I enjoyed the stories but I was disappointed that it wasn't a travelogue as the title suggested and was definitely not impressed with Heat-Moon's attempt to astound me with his vocabulary and grammar. It is a book I would recommend only if you are a lover of stories Americana and even then I would recommend you keep a dictionary handy.

In case you were curious (as I most definitely am):

Pickle Pie
5 eggs
2 c. sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp lemon extract
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 c + 2 Tbsp light cream
1/8 c melted butter
12 oz. Sweet pickles, drained & ground
2 pie shells

Beat eggs and sugar until lemon colored and thick, beat in spices, extract, cornstarch, cream and butter. Stir pickles into mixture and pour into two pie shells. Bake at 350° for 60 to 75 minutes or until knife comes out clean.


Sage said...

Okay, I am now waiting on a review of "Pickle Pie!" I need to read Riverhorse.

Edelweiss Transplanted said...

I may have to get that book just to find out the reason WLHM included the Pickle Pie recipe. Was he sojourning among the Amish??

And if anyone tries making it, please tell us what it's like. It won't be me -- I hate pickles.

Ed Abbey said...

Sage - I love pickles and plan on trying this recipe out as soon as I get back from my trip the next couple weeks.

Edelweiss - It was out west where he found it so it wasn't among the Amish. I'll definitely do a post when I make it.

Beau said...

Nice review. Hmmm... I love pickles and I love pie. Not sure about them together however!

R. Sherman said...

Moon was fired at Stephen's College in Columbia when I was at Mizzou. He did the road trip which led to Blue Highways, wrote the book, became rich and famous then then got hired at Mizzou. My wife knew him when she was getting her PhD. Interesting guy but kind of full of himself. I think his success spoiled him.


Murf said...

What's the meaning of quoz?

Ed Abbey said...

Beau - I'm not sure either but it definitely intrigued me.

R. Sherman - He certainly was full of himself in this book.

Murf - Basically it means anything out of the ordinary. I did in one sentence what it took Heat-Moon an entire chapter to do.

Woody said...

I'm happy to hear that I'm not alone in the abandonment of PrairyErth. I recall only making it a third of the way through.

PhilippinesPhil said...

I enjoyed that, and R Sherman's commentary about his wife's run in with "Heat Moon." Cool. Makes me wonder, what comes first, the self-absorption or the writing success? Does it take self-absorption to be good at writing? Maybe that's the secret... Also, how often does success "ruin?" Is it inevitable? Is it better to fail and learn humility (or stay that way), or just never try at all, and thus never risk success and the inevitable ruin that ensues from it? And does Moon Man consider himself "ruined," or is that just something that everyone else around him has to suffer? And I'm not being sarcastic; I really think like this...