Charles Portis‘ novel The Dog of the South is a dialogue-driven narrative told from the perspective of a young man from Little Rock, Arkansas during the late 60’s or early 70’s. The narrator, Ray Midge, belongs in the company of such characters as Ignatius J. Reilly, characters whose voices are strong, outside the mainstream, and blunder through life either unaware or uncaring for how others see them. Midge is uptight, conservative, and drives the reader between bouts of laughter and annoyance. It’s a fine line and Portis seems acutely aware of the tension Ray Midge creates.
The novel follows a simple enough premise that is absurd on face value. Midge is in pursuit of Guy Dupree who has stolen Midge’s Ford Torino and credit cards, and run off to Mexico with Midge’s wife, Norma. What’s Midge most concerned about? Why, the car of course!
Midge has Guy Dupree’s less powerful 1963 Buick Special, a pistol packed in a cooler of ice, baloney, and beer, as well as an inability to comprehend why people find him tedious. It’s not quite Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but both men are fairly deluded.
Through the meandering narrative, Portis’ love for language and dialogue spills from the pages. Midge and Dr. Symes, a scoundrel Midge picks up in Mexico, partake in many conversations where the other man is talking at or past the other one. It’s funny. It hits the right cadence. It may go on too long. The risk of course is wearing out the reader’s patience. If you’re looking for a change of pace or a unique voice, I recommend reading The Dog of the South. If Midge and Symes start to annoy you, take a break and come back to the novel, this isn’t one to quit and forget.