Monday, June 13, 2011

The Dog of the South

I'm not much on reading fiction.

But I do sometimes, if it's good enough.

The Dog of the South is good enough.

I'm not much on blogging book reports, either, but Descartes paid a rare visit to this blog the other day, so I will, in honor of him. (Jon talks about books, tv, movies on his blog.)

"The Dog of the South" is a perfect novel for me: It's old (1979); there is hardly anything in the way of a plot; and, best of all, the characters do not develop in ANY way. They are what they are and they don't improve with age.

Why would I want to read it then? Because it is good. It is entertaining. It is interesting. I couldn't put it down when I first read it and I couldn't put it down the second time around, now that Overlook has had the brains to reissue it after twenty years or so.

Why else? Maybe because Charles Portis makes me laugh so hard and so long that I pee all over the couch and scare the cats.

Charles Portis is funny. Charles Portis' first big book was the comedy "True Grit" back about 1968 or so. I'm talking about the book, not the movie (although he made a pretty penny selling the book to the movies too - not once, but twice so far.) Maybe you didn't think True Grit was a comedy, but it is in the book. Only Portis could make up names like Rooster Cogburn or Mattie from Yell County.

But The Dog of the South is not True Grit. It is in a class of its own. A world of it's own. There is no real need to think: just read and laugh your ass off.

The hapless protagonist, Ray Midge, is more than bad enough on his own, but Portis, in a fit of overkill, throws in Dr. Reo Symes as Midge's poor man's Pancho Sanza:

"I always tried to help Leon and you see the thanks I got. I hired him to drive for me right after his rat died. He was with the Murrell Brothers Shows at that time, exhibiting a fifty-pound rat from the sewers of Paris, France. Of course it didn't really weigh fifty pounds and it wasn't your true rat and it wasn't from Paris, France, either. It was some kind of animal from South America. Anyway, the thing died and I hired Leon to drive for me. I was selling birthstone rings and vibrating jowl straps from door to door and he would let me out at one end of the block and wait on me at the other end."

It's hard to explain comedy. In fact, if you can explain why it's funny, it probably isn't. Suffice to say it isn't the 50 pound rat that makes the reader lose bladder control; that only gets you set up and mentally smiling. It is, of course, the vibrating jowl straps that pushes you over the edge. Anyway, here's a bit of Ray Midge talking at the beginning of the book:

"My wife Norma had run off with Guy Dupree and I was waiting around for the credit card billings to come in so I could see where they had gone. I was biding my time. This was October. They had taken my car and my Texaco card and my American Express card. Dupree had also taken from the bedroom closet my good raincoat and a shotgun and perhaps some other articles. It was just him like to pick the .410 — a boy's first gun. I suppose he thought it wouldn't kick much, that it would kill or at least rip up the flesh in a satisfying way without making a lot of noise or giving much of a jolt to his sloping monkey shoulder."


"Here he was then, cruising the deserts of Mexico in my Ford Torino with my wife and my credit cards and his black-tongued dog. He had a chow dog that went everywhere with him, to the post office and the ball games, and now that red beast was making free with his lion feet on my Torino seats."


"In exchange for my car he left me his 1963 Buick Special. I had found it in my slot at the Rhino Apartments parking lot, standing astride a red puddle of transmission fluid. It was a compact car, a rusty little piece of basic transportation with a V-6 engine. The thing ran well enough and it seemed eager to please but I couldn't believe the Buick engineers ever had their hearts in a people's car. Dupree had shamefully neglected it. There was about a quarter-turn of slack in the steering wheel and I had to swing it wildly back and forth in a childlike burlesque of motoring. After a day or two I got the hang of it but the violent arm movements made me look like a lunitic. I had to stay alert every second, every instant, to make small corrections...

The speedometer cable was broken, but...

"I had to keep the Buick speed below what I took to be about sixty because at that point the wind came up through the floor hole in such a way that the Heath wrappers were suspended behind my head in a noisy brown vortex."

One reviewer said nobody should die without reading "The Dog of the South." I don't think I would go that far, but "The Dog of the South" is probably the best book that includes an old school bus in Mexico that you will read for a long time.

Another reviewer said this book is like being held down and tickled. That about says it for me, too.

Warning: like the naive girl who reviewed it on Amazon: "This book is not about a dog!"


  1. It's not just the cats who are scared.

  2. I've never read it so I have no opinion. I do know about books that tickle you just right every time.

    One can't have too many of those.

  3. Sounds good... I'll have to check it out.




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