Monday, December 1, 2008

Roads To Quoz: An American Mosey

Title: Roads To Quoz: An American Mosey
Author:William Least Heat-Moon
Publisher:Little, Brown

Quoz (rhymes with "oz"): "Anything, anywhere, living or otherwise, connecting a human to existence and bringing an individual into the cosmos and integrating one with the immemorial, thereby making each life belong to creation, and so preventing the divorce of one from the all which brought it into being."

Working from the above definition, William Least Heat-Moon's latest book is a collection of writings about his search for quoz on several unique road trips around America. From the logging roads of north Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, Heat-Moon turns his knack for getting off the beaten path into an interesting and thought provoking string of loosely bound stories.

I have to make a confession here: two years ago I started reading Heat-Moon's most famous book, Blue Highways, and I stopped a fourth of the way into it. I wasn't prepared for his very unconventional prose style, which thrives on sticking its tongue out at brevity and clarity. Heat-Moon is not so concerned with making sure that you're able to follow him every step of the way, but instead enjoys weaving together long, intricate sentences full of word play and nuance.If you're unable to fully grasp the meaning of the the paragraph you just read, he trusts that you'll be able to rejoin him in the next.

Here's a sample sentence from Quoz that I think captures the idea. Heat-Moon is writing about driving into the Ouchita mountains in Arkansas: "In years past, I've always come into that planetary washboard athwart, and on two of those occasions I've had to stop along one of the twisting, transverse routes for a passenger to leave her breakfast along the roadsides for the possums, a consequence of transit not unlike sailing a short sea." Translation: his wife usually throws up when they drive the windy mountain roads.

While I was unprepared for Heat-Moon's style when I first picked up Blue Highways, I knew what was getting into when I started Qouz. As a consequence, I spent several pleasant evenings totally absorbed in the book - not just in the fantastic travel yarns, but in the smoky, rambling way that Heat-Moon tells them.

Most of the stories center on Heat-Moon's quest for interesting people and places in the less-visited areas of America. Some of them he purposefully tracks down - such as a woman who intentionally lives on $4.00 a day - and some of them he stumbles on by accident - such a muralist who has created a psychedelic museum in his home. All of them are worth reading about. A central theme of the book, also worth considering, is how we as Americans continue to adapt to our landscape - both successfully and unsuccessfully. Heat-Moons scorns a town built on top of ancient Native American burial mounds and celebrates a man who uses discarded grain bins to build a restaurant.

My only complaint with with Qouz has to do with Heat-Moon's apparent inability to see the world from other's point of a view. He is a writer with plenty of money travelling at his own leisure. This leaves him vast amounts of free time to critique the people and lifestyles that he encounters along the way. He seems to be a bit trapped in his own dreamy world, and anyone trying to work at a normal job for a living is hopelessly lost. One example: during an extended ride on a boat travelling the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, Heat-Moons notices the irritated faces of drivers along the bank who have to wait for a drawn bridge while his boat passes. He spends a paragraph reflecting how these people must be drained of life, unable to appreciate the beauty of a boat sailing gently through the water on its way to an unknown destination. The fact that these people are just trying to get home from work to their families doesn't seem to register with him.

Despite this one aspect, I found Qouz to be a very satisfying read, full of great stories from a great storyteller. Heat-Moon's unique writing style raises it well above the level of average travel literature.


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Beth F said...

I read Blue Highways when it first came out and loved, loved, loved it. I haven't read anything else by him. Quoz sound similar. I'll likely give it a try. Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review - this is in my TBR pile.

Anna said...

Sounds interesting, though I'm not sure it's my cup of tea. Thanks for the review.

Diary of Eccentric

Alyce said...

I won this book in a hachette giveaway. I don't know when I'll have the time to read it, but it sounds interesting.