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CROSS COUNTRY by Robert Sullivan Kirkus Star

CROSS COUNTRY

Fifteen Years and 90,000 Miles on the Roads and Interstates of America with Lewis and Clark, a Lot of Bad Motels, a Moving Van, Emily Post, Jack Kerouac, My Wife, My Mother-in-Law, Two Kids, and Enough Coffee to Kill an Elephant

By Robert Sullivan

Pub Date: July 1st, 2006
ISBN: 1-58234-527-9
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Rollicking, ironic chronicle of a family car trip from Oregon to New York, interlaced with stories about previous trips, Lewis and Clark, Jack Kerouac, varieties of coffee lids, and . . . well, see the subtitle.

Sullivan, who seems to specialize in quirky, uncategorize-able subjects (Rats, 2004, etc.), takes us on a journey that’s sentimental but also literate, literary, amusing, informative, wicked, self-deprecating and deeply entertaining. Beginning with the observation that the so-called “real America” does not necessarily appear only along the blue highways, he restricts himself (mostly) to the interstates, whose history he relates along the way. He details his preparations (he used AAA TripTiks), the stops he made (he golfed in Montana and examined Geese in Flight, a huge roadside sculpture in North Dakota), the thoughts he had, the interactions with his wife, son and daughter. The text is intentionally and effectively digressive as the author takes myriad detours. One notable example: Sullivan gives us a full account of a previous, horrible cross-country trip in a rented moving van—it misbehaved, then broke down—but he thin-slices the story and inserts pieces of it throughout the narrative. In similar fashion, we also learn about the history of cross-country highways, motels, fast food (Sullivan seems especially interested in the Kum & Go chain), service stations that no longer offer service, the Cannonball Run, the varieties of roadside coffee. We hear about the genesis of guidebooks and how FDR helped design a portion of the Taconic Parkway. We ride along for a bit with Emily Post, who wrote a book about cross-country travel in 1916; we learn that approximately 1.5 million deer are hit by cars each year. Sullivan occasionally offers photocopies of his amusing diary pages and crude but evocative drawings.

A dazzling account of America’s most archetypal odyssey, with much social history slyly and wryly inserted.