The Dog of the South
To the very few people who know me particularly well, it would come to no surprise that if an opportunity ever arose for me to recommend a book I would choose, and over-enthusiastically, Charles Portis’ novel, The Dog of the South. I just can’t shake it or deny it—this is my favorite book; and in my mind, it’s a modern classic. Written with a similar comedic touch of American master Mark Twain, and the rugged, unstoppable, and sometimes transcendent prose of his contemporary Cormac McCarthy, Portis lines up the characters of his story like a last minute dodgeball game before the world implodes, a furious, warm-cold, dust-choked blur of every human triumph and sinful tragedy.
All things said, it’s not a long novel. Neither is it a very descriptive novel. Like much great American writing these days, plot must rest to some extent upon association. The technique is a polarizing one—it’s what separates the Wharton’s from the Fitzgerald’s—sometimes more easily grasped by certain readers and not others. In Portis’ country-fried hands, jokes and references have the risk of falling flat due to their non-universality, but, nevertheless, I have a tendency not to attribute any sort of consciousness outside of my affable Midwest. Maybe someone in Los Angeles would in fact view middle-aged diarrhea with the same humorous slant as I would, and maybe not. I’m only saying any of this, mind you, because, it being such a beloved book of mine, I would be absolutely crushed to learn that it was not enjoyed by someone I previously knew, and would therefore be forced to pass judgments upon them I did not anticipate.
I refuse, then, to reveal really anything concerning the plot of this novel. If the words “Mexico”, “highway”, “God”, “deception”, “confusion”, or “sugar diabetes” do not, when combined, create a sentence full of comfort and hamburger grease, well, then I say this book is not meant for you. You would be better off reading something a little safer. If those words did touch you in some way, please do not hesitate to allow Portis to drag you from Arkansas all the way down to Mexico, only to leave you penniless, wife-less, and rolling down the coast in a broken-down Oldsmobile with a man who claims to have been a doctor. It’s an unforgettable ride.
I love the south. There’s never much I can ever say when asked why, or when asked to explain the merits of southern literature. Humor for life despite the presence of death. Love despite many years of racism and hatred. Pride despite many years of stigmatism and misunderstanding. And comfort despite a hot, humid, and sometimes dangerous environment. It’s all true, and it’s all a lie. It’s all just so damned unexplainable. Maybe I’m being short-sighted, but I have faith that there are people out there who understand from where I am coming. For the same reason I love the pink and purple sun setting behind the hills, I love this book. I love The Dog of the South.