Great American Road Trip
Book: Farther Along(2008) by Donald Harington
This book’s characters talk through musical instruments.Which makes it a natural to pair with Kerry Dexter, my partner on this Great American Road Trip. See what music she recommends for your drive through Arkansas at Music Road.
Farther Along may puzzle you and challenge you, but surely it will tell you about life and the links between generations and in the end, it will have you humming along and considering your own life. Not to mention laughing out loud. If you want to see more of Harington’s humor, see the video in the News section of his web site
Summarizing the plot puts a reviewer on dangerous ground, because each reader will want to make his/her own discoveries. Even the publisher’s blurbs venture only into the very early portion of the book. What author was it, when asked what his book was about, replied that he couldn’t say–that’s why he had to write a whole book? (Or words to that effect).
So… after a divorce, the main character leaves his job as an expert on “vernacular” furniture to live as a prehistoric native in a cave in the Arkansas woods, thus becoming “The Cave Dweller.” A waterfall serves as a shower. He has a dog, and he plays the comb. The comb requires a lot of toilet paper and the dog resents it when the man kills deer. He befriends an old woman who used to be the postmistress of the village, and a young man who makes moonshine. Through them, and a few other characters, he is drawn into the life of this nearly deserted town and its past.
In real life, (such as it is) I have only visited the northern part of Arkansas. Very pretty, but mostly populated by retirees from other parts, and condos and golf courses vie for space along with the native woods. The descriptions in Farther Along of the hills, waterfalls and mountains make me want to go back and explore some more.
In post-modern fashion, Donald Harington allows his characters to comment on the style of the novel. His characters are clear and distinct and speak with individual voices. His discussion of their various odd lives makes the reader think about modern life and its meaning and the thin line that separates the living from the departed. If it is hard to understand life now, we are supposed to understand “Farther Along.” That phrase comes from a funeral hymn, (You can see a video of the song at the link) whose entire music and verses are reprinted in the front of the book.
Farther Along we’ll know all about it; Farther Along we’ll understand why; Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine; We’ll understand it all by and by.
Will we? That is the question. An the story without an end leaves you to find your own answers.
I do not read about the author, or read other reviews until I have figured out what I think about a book. Harington has an intriguing background. He has been deaf since childhood, which makes his reproduction of the rhythms of speech and his fascination with music particularly notable. I was also intrigued to learn that he has written 12 novels about a small town he calls Stay More, which echoes a real town in Arkansas, Drake’s Creek, where his own grandmother was the postmistress. I liked the description by Entertainment Weekly that called Harington, “America’s Greatest Unknown Novelist.”
The photograph above, comes from Flckr complements of Creative Commons license. Click on the photo to learn more about the location and the photographer.
For road trips IN Arkansas, see this Road Trips for Families article. Next stop on OUR road trip: Mark Twain’s Missouri.
Have you traveled in the Ozarks? Are there times when you would you like to live in a cave?
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