This book could be called a near opposite of the one in my most recent review. That one contained lots of information and was well researched but not so well written. The Narrow Road: An Adventure on the Lincoln Highway tells me little that’s new and involved almost no research but is fairly well written. Yes, I do have variety in my reading.
I’m sure no one will be surprised to read that I sometimes visit Amazon and type “Lincoln Highway” into the search box. I used to do it to see if there was anything new that I hadn’t heard about but recently I’ve been doing it to see where my own book appears. The Narrow Road popped up in the search results and was not only “something new that I hadn’t heard about”, there were similarities between it and my book, By Mopar to the Golden Gate. Abbott’s book was published on December 17, 2013, mine on December 27, and both were travelogues of full length drives of the Lincoln Highway during its centennial year. Abbott lived far from the coasts, in Springfield, Missouri, so that, like me, he had to start his journey with an eastbound drive to New York City and end it with an eastbound drive back home. Beyond that, however, the similarities peter out quickly.
Abbott knew next to nothing about the Lincoln Highway before setting out to drive it. He was between jobs but had a little money in the bank. The recent death of his mother left him with no obligations and a cross country drive seemed like just what he needed. He more or less stumbled on the Lincoln Highway when he started looking for a route to connect the east coast with Route 66 which he knew about not only because of its own fame but because it ran through his home town. I think the coincidence of the Lincoln Highway’s 100 year anniversary and his own opportunity to run free for a bit clinched the decision to follow this newly discovered piece of history. He explains, “I didn’t go with any preconceived ideas. I learned just enough about the route to find my way.”
Amazon’s description of the book includes “…a travel narrative in the tradition of Travels with Charley“. I don’t doubt that’s what Abbott was going for but Steinbeck had a couple of decades of living and a shelf full of best sellers on the forty-three year old so that his “careful reflection and discovery” (also part of the Amazon description) ran a little deeper and carried a little more weight. One bit of discovery that, at least in my opinion, Steinbeck and Abbott share is the discovery that they don’t really like road trips. Neither says this, of course, but neither seems to be having the time of their life during their journey. I reviewed another book in the Travels With Charley tradition, Long Way Home, last year and the writer of that one, Bill Barich, seems to enjoy his trip a lot more than either Abbott or Steinbeck.
Steinbeck had no practical limits on time or money. Barich definitely did. Abbott’s time might not have been limited itself but his clearly restricted budget did certainly limit the amount of time he could spend running around with no income. Restaurants and motels were luxuries. Abbott ate a lot of canned fruit and peanut butter. He camped quite a bit and spent several nights sleeping in the homes of people contacted through a website. Both the camping and the home sharing contributed stories.
When Abbott left home, he was committed not only to the full coast to coast road trip but to producing a book about it. That commitment may have made him a little more observant and definitely kept him on the lookout for subject matter. More than once he noted that an encounter provided “something worth writing about”. Things observed and people encountered are written about and are sometimes used as launch points for essays on whatever enters Abbott’s thoughts at the time. None of the observations are particularly enlightening or the essays especially insightful but I enjoyed them — largely, I think, because they were quite different than my own observations and essays on a very similar trip. I believe this was Abbott’s first big road trip and I suspect part of my enjoyment of the book came from telling myself that some of Abbott’s thoughts were the thoughts of the typical first timer.
In the first paragraph, I described this book as “fairly well written”. I added the “fairly” qualifier because the writing, while extremely literate, has some issues. Or maybe it just has one issue. Abbott doesn’t exactly repeat a thought but neither does he let go of one easily. There were times when the same thought was expressed in so many different ways that I wondered if it might be some sort of writing exercise.
The Narrow Road: An Adventure on the Lincoln Highway, John Jay Abbott, December 17, 2013, Kindle ebook only, 388 KB, ASIN- B00HESQC2G