Chris's Reviews > The Dog of the South

The Dog of the South by Charles Portis
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Nov 06, 12

Read from July 09 to 29, 2011

When I finished True Grit, I knew I would read more from Portis; having finished Dog of the South, I now know I will read all of Portis. Narrator Ray Midge is a bumbling, frustrating loser (unaccomplished, undegreed, cuckolded, and abandoned at 26) who proves entirely unable to determine what will and will not be of interest to the reader, so there are some frustrations in reading this chronological but shapeless and undifferentiated narrative. If you can accept the unnecessary incidents and the unsatisfying lack of connections in the plot as further elaboration of Ray's character, it reads well, but I understand reviewers here who are put off by the novel's disunity.

That aside, when this is good, it's holy-wow-laugh-out-loud good. What a book! What characters! What dialogue! (Ray is--incidentally--a huge! fan! of! the! exclamation! mark!) Portis' dialogue just cracks off the page. When it's funny, it is as funny as any novel I have ever read.

As the novel opens, Ray gathers his resources (a stack of $25 bonds and a stolen Buick) and heads to Mexico to retrieve his wife, his credit cards, and his Ford Torino, all of which are pretty much things taken from him. He isn't motivated by love in this quest but by dispossession, and the thefts give Ray an excuse to exchange his drifter's life in Arkansas for a drifter's life in British Honduras.

Ray's lack of self-awareness is endless. He concludes the novel saying, "I knew I would have to write [this rambling mess of a narrative] down, present it all in orderly fashion, and this I have done." For Ray, "orderly" means only chronological it would seem, and the fact that he accounts this narrative a success is just further explanation for why he continues to fail. Ray cannot make sense of the world or the relationships he develops in it. The only way he grows then is this: when his wife, for all the right reasons, abandons him again at novel's end, he refuses to give chase a second time. Whether this is growth or simply exhaustion is up to the reader.
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