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Here’s another eccentric adventure from Charles Portis and another perfect read by David Aaron Baker.
On his odyssey, up and out of the South to New York City and back, a small-town Texan named Norwood sees a lot of things.
“He saw himself on television at Robert Ripley’s Believe It or Not Auditorium, and looked at all the curios downstairs, believing most of them, but not believing the one about Marshall W. M. Pittman of Wharton, Texas, shooting a bullet right into a crook’s gun in 1932. Still, there was the gun, and why would they make it up?”
And that may be Charles Portis in a nutshell. He makes it up because it’s a compelling sketch, and not because it goes anywhere in particular. If there are any great life’s lessons to be learned here, they are well concealed.
He defines his characters through their experiences, and they are often a sensory feast. The sound of an empty peach can, rattling on the pavement after a departing car, is so sharp, you’ll swear you heard it yourself.
Of a woman he meets on a Trailways bus: “Her husband had disappeared two years before, and was subsequently found working as an able seaman on a sulfur boat, through a rude postcard he had foolishly sent her from Algiers, Louisiana. He was back home now, but living in the garage, and drinking.”
Where does he get this stuff?
And at the terminal: “A dozen or so Marines in limp khakis and with ruined shoeshines were hanging about the station waiting for the last liberty bus back. Fatigue and unhappiness were in their faces, as of young men whose shorts are bunching up.”
Most of the characters are rather eloquently befuddled by life, and the swindlers who prey on them only slightly sharper. In a battle of wits, as the old saying goes, their opponents have come unarmed. But there is something about naïve personalities that makes them interesting. In Portis’ world, they engage more fully with everything around them. They are more deeply affected.
Will Norwood reach his destination safely? Will he achieve his vague ambitions, whatever they may be? The best thing is, it really doesn’t matter. The journey, stitched together in a hundred hilarious, often bewildering little scenes, is far more important than the journey’s end.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
I read Norwood about a year ago and liked it fine. Listening to it was better. David Baker made the story come alive.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful