Road Trip Heads for the Hollers of Kentucky

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The Great American Road Trip

Destination: Kentucky

Book: No Heroes by Chris Offutt

Chris Offutt

“Kentuckians have a long tradition of going west for a new life and winding up homesick instead.” Chris Offutt

This memoir by Chris Offutt tells about his homecoming to the Appalachian area of Kentucky, where he takes a teaching  job at Morehead State University. He passes on a separate tale in scattered chapters when he interviews his wife’s parents about their life in slave labor and concentration camps during World War II.  Either of these stories–the attempt at returning to his boyhood home, and the stories of survival–would make a good book. At one point his father-in-law worries about how Chris is going to meld these two pieces together, and Offutt muses that maybe at the end they will come together. They do. Sort of. It is a remark of the concentration camp survivor that leads to the title [amazonify]0684865513::text:::: No Heroes [/amazonify].

In the prologue, Offutt sketches life as a hillbilly. (It is alright to call him that–that is what he calls himself and his friends.) When you return home, he says:

Make sure you drive a rusty pickup that runs like a sewing machine, flies low on the straight stretch, and hauls block up a creek bed.  Hang dice from the mirror and a gun rack in the back window. A rifle isn’t necessary, but something needs to be there–a pool cue, a carpenter’s level, an ax handle.

He goes on like this for three more pages and has the reader laughing out loud–or at least this reader was guffawing. But I was not making fun of the backwoods boys, because the behavior and habits of these people frequently sounded like a description of the small town in Ohio that I grew up in.  I laughed because anybody who has lived in a small town, particularly one slightly isolated by geography, can relate.

Small town Kentucky by Autumn Harbison

Kentucky hill towns have some rougher edges and definitely more poverty than the area where I grew up, but still–the similarity was there.  And while Offutt frequently waxes poetic about the hills and woods, it is the people and human traits in general that attract the reader.  And to me, this was what ties together the stories from the Holocaust with the stories of a forty-year-old trying to return to his youth.  The stories are all about people and how they treat each other, and what they believe and what they hope for, or how they have given up hope.

One reviewer, Charles May, a professor emeritus from University of California Long Beach, says that Offutt “understands and respects  his characters.” (You can see an analysis of Offutt’s  short stories at May’s blog.) Respect, perhaps, but surely Morehead State was not too happy about their portrayal in this book.  They have been named one of the best small universities in the nation by U. S. News and World Report for several years running, but Offutt portrays the school as being (when he was teaching there) backward and ill-equipped.

Offutt has carved a niche as the hometown Kentucky writer for his generation, and has books of short stories and other full-length books that mine the hillbilly culture. Now we can also think of his books as travel books for road trip planning for a stop in Kentucky.

And what would Kentucky be without its music?  Music Road tells us about two musicians who make great Road Trip Music for the mountains or any other part of Kentucky. Music Road partners with A Traveler’s Library for this trip around the country and shares a wealth of American music.

Have you considered a road trip to Kentucky? Where would you head? Bluegrass country to see race horses? Bourbon manufacture? Daniel Boone’s history? or the hills of Appalachia?

Just a little reminder that anything that you purchase at Amazon when you use a link from this blog, earns me a few cents and helps keep the lights on at the Traveler’s Library. The small town photo is from a University of Kentucky web page and was taken by a student. Click on the photo to see the accompanying article.

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

7 thoughts on “Road Trip Heads for the Hollers of Kentucky

  1. Thanks for this great review. I put together travel adventures based on books and this sounds like a great book to follow. A funny book about the Appalachian Trail is “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. Definitely comes across some hillbillies.

  2. I would love to read this book. Kentucky is one place I know very little about- this sounds like a great mixture!!

    A great review as usual- you have left me wanting to dash out and get the book. I should have had you do a review on my book when it came out :)

  3. Thanks for the review of Chris Offutt’s No Heroes. A good friend is from Kentucky, and I have to share this with her. To answer your question, I would head to the hills! (Although I come from a spelunking family, and there are caves in Kentucky!).
    I am interested in the other story. A freind of the family grew up in prewar Poland in a German heritage family, served in the Polish Army, then in the German, was captured by the British and then served in the British army. He had some amazing stories. -r

  4. i’d love to go back to KY. we visited mammoth caves when i was a child, and toured the louisville slugger plant. my aunt and her family lived in harlan, KY, for a while – it sure was culture shock for me when we went to visit. i’ll have to read this book! thanks!
    .-= jessiev hopes you will read blog ..Recipes from Italy: Poached Pears =-.

  5. After reading alot of horse racing books (by Walter Farley) when I was young, I’d love a trip to Kentucky to check out the horse scene. And especially after living in south Florida for a few years, seeing the hills of Appalachia would be fabulous. I’d probably plan the trip in the autumn, to enjoy all the beautiful color changes in the trees. I really miss that.

    Laura Hartness
    The Calico Critic
    .-= Laura Hartness hopes you will read blog ..Contest Winner Announcement, Plus Upcoming Giveaways! =-.

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