Meanderings around America in the company of an obliging yellow Lab.
“Not every trip we take is life-altering or results in a profound epiphany,” writes freelance journalist Zheutlin (Rescued: What Second-Chance Dogs Teach Us About Living With Purpose, Loving With Abandon, and Finding Joy in the Little Things, 2017, etc.), who demonstrates the truth of that statement. Closing in on retirement age, he and Albie hit the road in homage to John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley. Zheutlin travels wide but seldom deep, gathering anecdotes over 9,000 miles from New England to the West Coast and back. He notes that Vicksburg, Mississippi, “even with its rich Civil War history, seemed forlorn” and hastens on to Natchez, which “was prettier and seemed more prosperous.” If he’d lingered for a moment in Vicksburg, he might have learned why that might be the case and why residents of that city still nurse hard feelings for their neighbors downriver. Some of his stories have more weight to them. A nice moment comes early on, when he describes the so-called Jackson Whites, "a race living in the Ramapo Mountains” who were probably a mixed population of runaway slaves, Native Americans, Hessian deserters, and other people who had good reason to want to be left alone. Albie is definitely the star of the show; like all Labs, he can be growly at times but is otherwise an amiable presence. It doesn’t help his case that Zheutlin uses Albie to sentimental, sometimes-cloying ends, as when he writes of a homeless woman he encounters, “Albie, of course, cannot make judgments about people’s circumstances, which may be why meeting a dog that cannot and will not discriminate against you based on your circumstances, your race, or your religion must be…a lesson for us all.” Nostrums notwithstanding, the narrative is unchallenging and easygoing, like something Charles Kuralt might have delivered in his TV travelogues of old.
Pleasant enough but a soufflé that leaves Steinbeck with nothing to worry about.