Sunday, November 30, 2014

Travels with Charlie / Sol Smith

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Coming of Age/Travel Memoir/Humor

Approximate word count: 95-100,000 words

Kindle  US: YES  UK: YES  Nook: NO  Smashwords: NO  Paper: YES
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A writing professor who has also worked several other jobs, Sol Smith lives in California with his wife and four daughters. He is the author of two other novels, The Traveler and Sight.


“A young couple sets out to discover the country in the pre-dawn of GPS navigation and instead discovers each other. In Travels with Charlie, William and Charlotte Stronghold quit their jobs and sell their belongings in order to set sail and find a new home somewhere between their native California and the green mountains of Vermont. Along the way, they fall in love and into hate with the popular culture that binds Americans together. The lines are blurred between shady roadside attractions and heralded national monuments, between the natural wonders of the country and the loud and annoying tourists who populate them, between the concepts of place and self.

A head-on collision, a single burrito nearly a yard long, dead presidents, something that is probably a bear, and a Canadian sex club provide the backdrop for this story that is part romance story, part tall-tale, and part coming of age memoir. At times sweet and heartbreaking, almost always bitingly funny, Travels with Charlie is an American story about life on the road, in the tradition of Huck Finn, On the Road, and Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.”

I’ll get the negative out of the way upfront. This book had way more than an acceptable number of errors that should have been caught while applying the final polish during proofreading and copyediting. If these issues weren’t present, my overall ranking would have been at least one star higher.

The basic story of Travels with Charlie is recounting the honeymoon trip the author and his wife took years ago which was a large loop around the US with a brief foray into Canada. Although the author calls this book a novel, he also refers to it as “mostly true,” which is how it felt to me, the truth with a few modifications and embellishments. The travel memoir aspects of it worked well for me. But there’s more here than that. The trip was designed, not just to be a long honeymoon trip, but also to explore the country, apply for jobs (the protagonist/author had just graduated from college), and find a place to settle down.

It also reads like a coming of age story as Will and Charlotte, who is nicknamed Charlie, (the husband and wife “characters”) considered the repercussions of reaching a point where they were expected to now live like adults.

A couple techniques the author used frequently were tangents and something akin to breaking the fourth wall

What I call tangents might also be described as flashbacks, but often one led to another, not unlike what I find myself doing in real life as I start to explain one thing, then midway through divert to better explain something else. This may seem like it would detract from the story since a typical travel narrative usually tells the story in fairly straight chirographical order. But this worked well with smooth transitions and a smooth flow to the story.

Although I compared the second technique to breaking the fourth wall, the term used when an actor in a play acknowledges the audience in some way, this was different. Modern day Charlie, looking over Will’s shoulder while he’s writing, would comment on the story. This was typically to discuss her take on the event he’s describing, either to give her alternative view or possibly suggest he’s making her look bad. The technique not only provided the perspective of another person, but also a view as seen through the prism of time. Plus, it was a great way to interject more humor, which is something this story is full of, both in the events that happen and in Will’s view of life.

This was a fun story that works on several levels. The surface story of a marriage and honeymoon, the underlying coming of age story, and at a deeper level, what it means to “grow up” and become an adult. Were it not for the issues mentioned upfront, I’d be raving about it, but found those kept tripping me up as I’d start to become immersed in the tale. Readers who are forgiving of such technical issues should give this book a try.


Some adult language and mild adult content.

Format/Typo Issues:

A large number of proofing and copyediting misses. Besides the typical things like typos, wrong words, and spelling errors, he also had the couple traveling east from Minneapolis to Mount Rushmore and Portland, Oregon. Last, there were several places where what appeared to be notes from the author to himself remained. Typically these took the form of multiple question marks in the middle of a sentence sometimes with an alternate word suggestion in parentheses. I wondered if I hadn’t received the final copy, but when checking the version currently for sale on Amazon, those issues I’d flagged in the portion viewable using the look inside function still remained.

Rating: *** Three Stars

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