Friday, September 02, 2016

The Dog of the South (by Charles Portis)

This was the latest selection for our long-distance book club, the League of Unreliable Narrators. This is one that Chris had already read and loved, but I had never read. (I'd never read any Portis.) It also qualifies for the Read Harder Challenge in the category of "book published in the decade you were born," since it was published in 1979. 

This book is hilarious, with some pitch-perfect dialogue and one of the best closing paragraphs of all time. It's a bit of a shaggy dog story with -- appropriately enough -- a slightly unreliable narrator. Ray Midge's wife runs off with another man, and Midge heads down to Honduras to track them down. He runs into many interesting characters. Adventures ensue.

The Dog of the South really is a book that is about the experience and not the destination. It's about the many lines that I underlined -- for example, when Midge sees a pelican get hit by lightning and says, "I was astonished. I knew I would tell this pelican story over and over again and that it would be met with widespread disbelief but I thought I might as well get started and so I turned to the woman and the boy and told them what I had seen." These funny run-on sentences and strange moments are what The Dog of the South is all about.

One question we pondered at our meeting: metaphorically, who is the dog of the south? Is it Midge? Reo Symes? Is it a literal dog, with booties on its feet? Is it the marriage of Norma and Midge? Is it a dead pelican? All or none of the above? A question for the ages.

Thumbs up!

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