Dog Days is the tale of Andrew Thompson, an Australian in his early 40s who is travelling around the US with his girlfriend Lucy. Subtitled “Tales from an American road trip”, the book details the pair’s 15,000 mile odyssey through the weird and wonderful that America can offer. The author travels on the Greyhound coach service, nicknamed the “Dog” and latterly by car and is in some ways easy reading but in others far from it.
The book keeps the reader surprisingly hooked through a combination of candid and occasionally amusing travel tales but the subplot is perhaps what makes the book most readable. The relationship between the travelling pair seems highly volatile and Thompson draws the reader in with hints and clues early on that all might not be well. There is something of a compulsion to read on and see what happens: will they stay together, will they complete the trip, will we get a happy ending?
The book covers a wide range of aspects of American life, from their obsession with chain restaurants and hotels to the hippy vibe of California and from cowboys and rodeo to the surly staff of the Greyhound and the wild and rampant patriotism that exists. There are some interesting facts and observations and, as the book promises, these are often “very candid”.
However, the book sometimes makes for uneasy and uncomfortable reading. Whilst Thompson has lived in London for many years the “humour” he often attempts to employ seems rooted in schoolboy Australia. There is a difference between a candid observation and simple nastiness and the author, who comes across as impatient and intolerant at times, seems to revel in placing himself firmly in the camp of the latter.
“The front row of the stand was reserved for the handicapped. A big fat woman sat in one of those seats. “She doesn’t look handicapped…” Lucy said. “No, not handicapped” I said, “A fat, lazy bitch perhaps, but not handicapped”
“There was a girl behind the counter who was in her mid-twenties. She was ugly and looked dumb”
Thompson is forever commenting that people are fat, ugly or black and it all seems rather unnecessary, adding little to the story – other than serving to tell us about him – and certainly not providing insight or laughs. People of various races are talked about in huge, sweeping generalisations (for example Native Americans are described as being “Not a very intelligent race where money is concerned”) and the entire 320 million population of the US is constantly dismissed as “that’s the Yanks for ya”.
That said, this sort of simplistic humour and prose may well appeal to some people. Anyone considering a road trip to the US – especially on the “Dog” – could certainly do worse than to pick up a copy of Dog Days but don’t expect subtlety, complexity or balance. The book holds the attention well and is something of a page-turner and whether that’s because you’re waiting to see who will be insulted next or what will happen to love’s travelling dream, it’s still a major plus.