Tom's Reviews > The Dog of the South

The Dog of the South by Charles Portis
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Aug 21, 11


I wanted to like this novel more than I did, if for no other reason than the fact that I so much admire the author's strengths---namely his inimitable humor, his ear for ludicrous dialogue, his penchant for bizarre character details. All of these trademarks are in abundance in The Dog of the South, but the novel offers little else in the way of ballast. Many of the characters here seem interchangeably quirky, idiosyncratic to the point of grotesque caricature. The protagonist, Ray Midge,in his journey through Mexico and Honduras collides with one weirdo and hippy after another. Their dialogues are marathon sessions of malapropisms and non sequitur. Rather than crescendo into some new understanding or unfolding of the characters, these exchanges invariably sputter into deadends. "After a while, I tuned him out," Midge tells us time and again.

My major qualm with the book: There's an emotional shiftlessness in Midge that I couldn't get past. Sure, he's on a high adventure in foreign land, but his heart never seems to make it past his front door. Mattie Ross in True Grit had a purpose, a yearning. Midge does not. Why is he trekking through Mexico? Is it to retrieve his stolen Torino? His wife? Is he there to exact revenge? Is he on a vision quest? Ultimately, I don't think Midge has an idea. I certainly didn't.

Portis is a writer of considerable gifts, and I think these are in better display elsewhere. I know this novel is a cult favorite, and it has its unmistakable charms. But sometimes I thought some of these gifts better suited to a short story than a work of more sustained length. Too bad there's not a Charles Portis short story collection. Maybe one day?

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