In the fall of 1960, John Steinbeck drove 10,000 miles across the United States in a pick-up truck, with just his French poodle Charley for company. It was an eccentric and romantic idea, but Steinbeck wanted to be re-acquainted with the nation he had portrayed so vividly in his great novels of the 1930s, and when 'the urge to be someplace else' was on him, he knew better than to resist. Charley was there through it all and he turned out to be the ideal travel buddy. Intelligent, diplomatic and worldly-wise, he could size up strangers in an instant and lighten the blackest of moods.
Their journey took them coast to coast through 34 states, from Long Island to Seattle, from Niagara Falls to New Orleans. The paraphernalia of modern America - urban sprawl, super-highways, fast food restaurants, trailer parks - shocked but fascinated Steinbeck. He shared a pew with the faithful in Vermont, had a close encounter with a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park and passed time shooting the breeze with truckers almost everywhere. But the more he fell in love with the natural beauty of his country - the redwoods of Oregon, the Norway pines and feathery spruce of Maine - the more he became troubled by some of its morals. After witnessing racist 'Cheerleaders' outside a school in Louisiana, he was asked whether he was travelling for pleasure. 'I was - until today,' was his reply. Travels with Charley is at once an affectionate account of life on the road and a great writer's last look at an America entering a turbulent time in its history.
Review by rachellio on 25th Apr 2012