Kirkus Reviews QR Code
DOGS BARK, BUT THE CARAVAN ROLLS ON by Frank Conroy Kirkus Star

DOGS BARK, BUT THE CARAVAN ROLLS ON

Observations Then and Now

By Frank Conroy

Pub Date: April 22nd, 2002
ISBN: 0-618-15468-X
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Essays old and new from writer’s writer Conroy (Body and Soul, 1993, etc.), who eschews fireworks in favor of the dead-on observation as he considers topics ranging from fatherhood to the Rolling Stones to leaving New York.

The author kicks off this collection of pieces spanning 30 years with a few anecdotes that got left out of the original published versions (in periodicals ranging from the New York Times Magazine to GQ). There was the time he went to movie actor Steve McQueen's house to do an interview for Esquire and found the actor stark naked; and Conroy's profile of the Rolling Stones went a lot smoother after an accidental jam session with drummer Charlie Watts, even though Mick Jagger was a “narcissistic egomaniac” (another observation that never made it into print). The writer quickly moves away from these quirky celebrity moments to circle around to a more intimate topic: himself. We learn of young Conroy's relationship with his mostly absent father, conducted almost entirely through Frank’s absorption in Dad’s book collection. We read about the author’s obsession with scouting, which endured until a pivotal moment of disillusionment in Madison Square Garden. We continue through his personal life, learning of his failed first marriage, his departure from New York, and his meeting his second wife on the road to a garbage dump. The centerpiece here is an essay about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (of which Conroy is director) that distills his philosophy and approach into 14 tight pages. Among the typically laconic comments: “Writing is a mixture of knowing what you're doing and not knowing what you're doing.” The collection’s final third focuses on Conroy's jazz writing; in his account of sitting in on keyboards as a teenager at Sugar Ray's in Harlem, the “pure glee of a kid jumping up and down on the theater seat” leaps off the page.

Seemingly effortless, entirely transportive.