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The Dog of the South

The Dog of the South by Charles Portis (1979) is a quest novel. Ray Midge’s wife Norma has run off with her ex-husband Dupree. They’ve taken Ray’s credit cards and his Grand Torino and they’ve headed south from Arkansas to Mexico and finally to Belize.  Ray is in his mid-twenties and he’s struggling to figure out what to do with his life. He’s very interested in military history and he knows quite a bit about cars, but he’s lost in the world.

Ray decides to go after his car, credit cards and yes, also his wife Norma. He packs a gun (from his collection) in a pie box and off he goes. We learn along the way that Ray isn’t likely to shoot anybody, and in fact he forgets about the gun. The book is about Ray’s adventures following the trail of Norma and Dupree. The heart of the novel is in all the characters and adventures Ray encounters along the way. Ray sallies forth on his adventure with a “don’t look back” attitude. When bad things happen, Ray gets mildly annoyed but simply carries on, moving closer to the objects of his quest.

The characters include a bail-bondsman (Dupree has jumped bail after threatening the President), a former doctor turned grifter, two older women running a missionary church in Belize, and a boy named Webster who sleeps in a box. There is no worry about what’s going to happen two weeks from now. Ray lives his roadtrip in the moment as he deals with the various obstacles separating him from his Torino.

I don’t know how it is that I’ve failed to read a Charles Portis novel until now. I’m going to read some of his other books in the coming months. I enjoyed the story and the characters and the humour as well in The Dog of the South.

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