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The Dog of the South, by Charles Portis

26 Apr

For the lighter side of life in the shadows, we’ve been reading this odd and wonderful road trip novel. About halfway into the book, we’ve got a lot going on. Midge is now in Belize (called British Honduras in those days), where he’s met a new cast of wacky characters, and apparently someone’s even seen Dupree. The plot thickens, as the saying goes. Consider the following questions:

How would you characterize the Dix book? On the surface, of course, it’s a simple salesman’s guide, but of course Dr. Symes treats it more like a sacred text. Is Symes onto something, in his strange way?

The detective story has continued to unfold. What “plot points” have we uncovered so far, and what do you make of them?

We’ve come upon a slowly developing, subtle theme of mysticism. Has that continued through these middle chapters? To what end?

What do we learn about Midge through Meemaw?

Finally, consider the religious “argument” between Meemaw (and Melba) and Midge. How seriously can we take it? Compare it to the religious argument between the Catholic and Protestant missionaries in At Play in the Fields of the Lord. 

The Dog of the South, by Charles Portis

2 May

For the lighter side of life in the shadows, we’ve been reading this odd and wonderful road trip novel. At this point in the novel, chapters 7-10, we’ve got a lot going on. Midge is now in Belize (called British Honduras in those days), where he’s met a new cast of wacky characters, and he’s finally found Dupree–though he hasn’t seen Norma yet. Aside from these plot developments, we’ve also come upon a number of motifs and themes*, such as:

Race, ethnicity, and nationality–How are Mexicans, Belizians, Americans, Canadians, Mayans, and the British represented? What do you make of Webster Spooner as a character? How about Ruth? Is Meemaw a colonialist missionary like those we’ve seen in At Play? Or is her mission different in some way?

Writing, or metafiction–We know at this point that the character, Midge, has actually written what we are reading, not as a novel but as a kind of memoir. Discuss Midge as a writer, and as a reader. What is his purpose for writing? What are his preferences in terms of books?

Religion and the supernatural–Midge is certainly not an unusually religious man, but we’re beginning to see more and more references to the metaphysical. How does this fit with the rest of the novel thus far? It strikes me that Dix is taken as a kind of holy man. What do you make of that?

*Both themes and motifs can be thought of as recurring elements in the narrative that take on symbolic value, and there is much overlap between these terms. The difference is that motifs are concrete, like the recurring presence of grifters, or broken-down cars, and themes abstract, like Midge’s frequent exclamation: “maintenance!”