William Least Heat-Moon Don Shewey - Essay

William Lewis Trogdon

Don Shewey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Blue Highways] is a treacherously earnest quest, and the writing sometimes gets corny and precious. But Blue Highways passes the basic test of travel books—you feel like you've gone along for the ride—and it occasionally succeeds at something more ambitious. Least Heat Moon locates the origin of storytelling in the land: what it looks like, who lived there, what they did, what happened to them….

Almost invariably Blue Highways sags in the philosophy department. Least Heat Moon tussles with integrating past, present, and future both inside and outside himself, but he leans too heavily for my taste on the pieties of Black Elk, and his own perceptions tend to sound more pompous than provocative ("Ego, craving distinction, belongs to the narrowness of now; but self, looking for union, belongs to the past and future."). Travel is a perfect opportunity to wallow in emotion and make self-pity a religion, but Least Heat Moon's observations remain oddly impersonal, never touching on vulgar human concerns like sex. I suppose it's just as well; his domestic problems sound dreary. Not surprisingly for a man in the middle of a divorce, he indulges in the guilty pleasure of belittling strange women. In Newport, "where jacktars had walked with the sway the sea teaches, now coeds from the Seven Sisters waggled their precious butts atop Pappagallos, and permanent-press matrons, safe in tummy-control Spandex, their triceps...

(The entire section is 445 words.)