The Dog of the South

  • Colin Lewis
    • Book Reviews
    • Charles Portis
    • Overlook TP, 2007
    • ISBN 1585679313

John gave me the complete collection of Charles Portis—save the Atlantis one which he didn’t have. This was back when I lived in the states. His Portis books are all paperbacks, and paperbacks make John uneasy, so he works to replace those he has with hardcovers. I just like them better, he says. John married my former sweetheart, and this in turn makes me uneasy, because I picture them at the breakfast table dissecting my faults and foibles (of which I have a few—maybe no more than anyone else, but nevertheless). They live in the country and keep chickens that lay blue eggs, an egg color I had never seen produced by domestic fowl.

The way we carry on, the three of us live a hair’s breadth from Portis characters, except we aren’t on the ubiquitous road trip that sweeps through his books. (Save the one I don’t have, and for all I know the characters hit the road in that one too.) Or maybe we are on that trip, and it’s just not as well written as in the hands of Portis. The Dog of the South uses his familiar theme: the protagonist loses a person, or a thingamabob, and in his naive, earnest, and unintentionally hilarious way sets out to find it. He’s a lost ball in high weeds, just like you, and me, and John and his wife. This is your summer reading. You need this book and all the others—even the one I don’t have—because reading them may save your life, just for a little while.

“Dix was the greatest man of our time. He was truly a master of the arts, and some of the sciences too. He was the greatest writer who ever lived.”
“They say Shakespeare was the greatest writer who ever lived.”
“Dix puts William Shakespeare in the shithouse.”
“I’ve never heard of him. Where is he from?”
“He was from all over. He’s dead now. He’s buried in Ardmore, Oklahoma. He got his mail in Fort Worth, Texas.”
“Did he live in Fort Worth?”
“He lived all over. Do you know the Elk’s club in Shreveport?”
“Not the new one. I’m not talking about the new lodge.”
“I don’t know anything about Shreveport.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s one of my great regrets that I never got to meet Dix. He died broke in a railroad hotel in Tulsa. The last thing he saw from his window is anyone’s guess. They never found his trunk, you know. He had a big tin trunk that was all tied up with wire and ropes and belts and straps, and he took it with him everywhere. They never found it. Nobody knows what happened to it. Nobody even knows what was in the trunk.”
“Well, his clothes, don’t you think?”
“No, he didn’t have any clothes to speak of. No change of clothes. His famous slippers of course.”
“His correspondence maybe.”
“He burned his letters unread. I don’t want to hear any more of your guesses. Do you think you’re going to hit on the answer right off? Smarter people than you have been studying this problem for years.”

–Dr. Symes explains to Ray Midge why Ray should throw his 400 books on military history out the window and replace them with a single volume by the author Dix.