By Robert Sullivan

REVIEWED BY NATALIE DANFORD

CRITIC’S CHOICE

NONFICTION

Sullivan, author of a fascinating chronicle of rodent life called Rats and the self-described “least spontaneous person you could ever know,” takes a rambling approach to coast-to-coast car trips in this quirky combination of memoir, history and trivia. His narrative hangs on a 2004 automotive odyssey from the East Coast to Portland, Ore., and back with his wife and children, but he artfully works in details of the thirty or so times he’s crisscrossed the country. This deadpan-humorous pastiche incorporates family journal entries (Sullivan’s daughter Louise, then 8: “The instant oatmeal this morning were really good”), the travels of explorers Lewis and Clark and a discussion of types of lids for take-out coffee cups. Sullivan, whose sense of absurdity is finely honed, also offers biographies of unsung American road warriors including Kemmons Wilson, who founded the Holiday Inn chain, and Carl Fisher, the bicycle maker behind the first trans-American roadway. Occasionally, the author’s tangents stray too far, but he gets a lot of mileage out of unexpected information. “Interstate driving is akin to driving in a dream,” Sullivan says; reading this discursive book, too, often has the pleasantly hypnotic and surreal feel of a long ride in the backseat at night.

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