I’ve really been getting into the travel books lately. And this one ranks pretty high with me. The author was excellent and really described his trip with a different tone than I’ve seen from most travel writers. Sure there were a couple of things that could be changed, but despite these, it really is an excellent book.
After leaving college Peter Jenkins isn’t quite sure what he wants to do with his life. He is discontent, most especially with America in general. After voicing this to a friend, the friends surprises him by suggesting that he get out and see America before making judgments. That fall, he takes off from his home to the North and starts heading South, towards the gulf, on the first let of his journey. Accompanying him is his half Malamute Cooper (who despite being a bit wild, is really a good dog). Through their trip they encounter some dangers (storms, sickness, etc.) but the real stand outs are the good things on the trip. Most especially the people. Since this trip takes place in the early seventies Jenkins has an attitude starting out that may be considered offensive today. But he changes his thoughts throughout the journey as he learns more. For instance, despite racial tensions in the South around that time, he finds himself living with a Black family where he forgets color and instead just enjoys being a part of everything. He also expects to hate Alabama and die there, but then finds that it is better than he thought. While he doesn’t get clear across America in this book, he does get pretty far.
Peter is a great narrator. He tells everything how it is and isn’t afraid to show how he’s wrong. As mentioned before he holds different views about parts of the country and its inhabitants and doesn’t mind being wrong about them. In fact, he relishes the fact that he was wrong and is appreciative. This is kind of a spiritual quest for him too and he brings up his experiences with different faiths and what he’s thinking throughout the book. He also loves his dog Cooper, which makes him a good person in my eyes and in many other people’s eyes.
The writing is smooth and descriptive and I was saddened by the fact the end of the novel did come so soon. The first half of the book had a lot of description while he was with Cooper. But then (and this is a spoiler, you have been warned) Cooper dies! I think the book must have fallen from my hands I was so shocked and saddened by this. But it was real life, so it’s not like Peter could change that. This makes the second half of the book go quicker and he doesn’t spend as much time in description. As previously mentioned, there are some religious aspects to this book, but it isn’t overly preachy, its just showing Peter’s thought processes and journey with religion. Since this is a book about his trip, it is appropriate.
Another great thing about this book is the amount of pictures. After visiting National Geographic, Peter obtained a camera from them for use on his travels (he also wrote an article for them). There is a whole section of colored photos and another section of black and white photos in the book. However, these pictures do give away spoilers for later in the book so proceed with caution.
I did love this book and despite its flaws I think it is one of the best I’ve ever read. I’m going to be eagerly searching to see if there is another edition with more of his travels out there and do all I can to get my hands on it. I highly recommend this book to anyone.
A Walk Across America