Sunday, January 3, 2016

John Waters hitchhikes across America.


By John Waters


Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I really like John Waters' take on pretty much everything. He has a good eye for pop culture and a wry observational style that brings out the bad and good in everyone including himself. So I was surprised I couldn't really get into Carsick, John Waters' chronicle of a hitchhiking journey across America. The most glaring reason is that only the third section is about the actual trip. The first and second section are fictional accounts of the best that could happen and the worst that could happen. They are well written and amusing. Waters can do no less. But I felt they distracted from the point of a literary travel book about America, an account of a travel that confronts you with the real face of America and , especially when you have an astute observer like Waters, an investigation in the contemporary state of culture and country. When I think of books like this, I think of Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck and Blue Highways by William Least Moon, two of my favorite all-time non-fiction works. I realize it may be unfair to throw any book into a stack that include such insightful and revealing classics, but that is what happens when you enter the territory. At least, Moon and Steinbeck wrote exclusively about the travels in their books.

So that leaves the third non-fictional part, the real story. It's good. it's entertaining. But it didn't really tell me much. It felt in a hurry and didn't give me insight like other books by Waters. In the long run, I really could not get into it. Overall, I felt a little cheated. And I felt a little sad because I really wanted this book to be more. I know a lot of people who liked it. But I found myself wanting to dig out Travels with Charley or Blue Highways, books that define the nature of the travel-across-America genre and revealed the real natures and dreams of the average resident of this country.

But I will give John Waters credit. I have done a lot of hitchhiking in my youthful days and now, in my mid sixties, the idea of doing the same fills me with fear and trembling. Waters must have big cajones to do what he did in his mid-sixties. I also love his cardboard sign "Not Psycho" which is the best cardboard sign I ever heard of second only to a panhandler on the street whose sign read "Will be president for food".

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