Interstate – Julian Sayarer

It’s Monday! I spent most of the weekend sick in bed, watching the 2018 North American League of Legends Summer Split. My husband, who loves hockey, doesn’t understand how I can possibly enjoy watching eSports. He also doesn’t understand how I can possibly enjoy watching the entirety of the Jurassic Park series over and over again, but I didn’t marry him for his love of dinosaurs (of which there is none–love of dinosaurs, that is).

This book.


This book.

I love this book so much.

Sure, Sayarer is a pinko commie liberal whatever whatever and, sure, it infuses almost every aspect of his writing. And some people wouldn’t care for that. But I love it. I love his approach, I love his language, I love his honesty, I love the hallucinations/magical realism, and I love (in a totally out-of-character way) his run-on, overblown paragraphing.

I believe that this is the first truly modern (2015) American road-trip narrative that I have read thus far (aside from Caputo’s The Longest Road, which, while a road-trip narrative set in America, did not bring the sense of America to the table, if that makes sense).

It has been incredibly hard to find modern (2010+) American road-trip narratives in the traditional publishing market. (There are plenty of self-published American road-trip narratives, sure, and I believe that some of them were probably worthy of traditional publishing but chose not/were unable to go that route for one reason or another, but I am unwilling to sift through the mass of dreck to find something good.) There are some more recent American road-trip narratives (many with a focus other than just the journey) that are on my TBR list, but my TBR travel book list is probably in the 400 range right now, and that’s just the travel books. If we start getting into my history list and classic literature list, and then my random bullshit list, I’m well into the thousands and whimpering at the thought that I might not be able to read them all.

Well, that was a digression.

The driving difference between Caputo’s The Longest Road and Sayarer’s Interstate is what I referenced above: Caputo has a Goal–he’s going to drive the longest road in America in his Airstream. Sayarer has a goal too: to get to San Francisco, primarily by hitchhiking.

What ends up driving *cough* these two apart in feel is that Sayarer is a meandering, where-the-wind-takes-him guy, and his book mirrors that. Caputo is focused. He’s doing a particular thing a particular way on a particular route. He has his wife, his dogs, his fitted-out Airstream and they are getting it done. Sayarer has a backpack, some cardboard signs, and a thumb. He gets where he gets in whatever way he gets there. There’s no constant companion, no driving force, nothing to stop him from spending a few days here and a few days there.

And, yes, I’m biased. I think a road-trip has a destination, yes, but to put an all-encompassing Goal on the thing taints it. It becomes about the destination(s) and not about the journey. And what is the point of a road-trip if not to journey?

Back to this lovely book.

Sayarer is engaging. He talks to people. He observes how people interact with each other and their environment. He examines himself and the world. He draws from world history and politics. He questions meanings. He flips back and forth between a sort of beat, riffing expressionist voice–when he gets deep into describing sensations and feelings–and a regular, personable narrative tone.

It’s quite lovely.

And this book, Interstate, is a true American road-trip narrative. It’s conforms to what I would consider classic road-trip tropes in a beautiful way.

What leaves me wondering is… this book has two reviews on Amazon. (One of them is mine because, really, it needed more than one review.) I’m clearly reading a UK release–which I know because the spelling and structure of certain things is definitely British… and the publishing info also gives a strong clue.

Was this never released in America? If I went on Amazon UK, would it have many more reviews? (I would do that, but I don’t feel like fighting with my computer right now–I hate dealing with locational re-routes.) If this was released in America, why didn’t it sell here? If it wasn’t, why not? Did people think it would do poorly? Did the UK publisher not try to sell international rights? This book (in my opinion) should be canon for American road-trip literature.


Anyhow, buy it, read it, love it (or tell me I’m an idiot–whatever, really).

Quotations for both your pleasure and mine:

“This is the kingdom of fear and those cars they don’t stop. Fright has them: by day it’s bad enough, at night there’s not a chance. These guys all know the facts, the statistics: one in thirty Americans are murderers nine out of ten of those have beards just like mine. I might have made that up, but that’s what statistics are nowadays, with facts strewn all about and an impression of truth more valuable than any flesh/bone reality you care to name.”

“People had been eager to help out, to support with advice of calamity and what would go wrong. I swear, if people felt compelled to tell you everything that could possibly go wrong in even the most boring year of a life, you’d start having doubts, too.”

“The lone female hitchhiker, who once told me of putting tinsel around the edge of her sign as she hitched home for Christmas. She’s sitting pretty, a Learjet in human form, there will be no stopping her.”

“Getting comfortable in his seat once more, the passenger behind slips a headphone back inside each ear. Our eyes break from one another, and here upon Interstate, surrounded by titanium and circuits of tin and cobalt, human history is suddenly nothing but the invention of new technologies: the moment at which human society intersects each new invention is what determines the path it will take thereafter. […] On a bus through the Pennsylvania night, surrounded by sleeping faces that illuminate in the soft glow of a screen each time they wake, I think what will become of our democracies, parachuted down to a society with no idea where they came from, what to do with them, how to preserve them.”

“For the first but not last time in this journey, it’s coming: I have nothing in common with these people. here there is no public, no humanity, nothing to connect us. I’m somehow coming to understand killers, that sustainable feed of Americans willing to act on the feelings now rising in me, the whole country defending the right of those people to own the implement of murder that allows them to fulfill a cold, numb, destruction of others. Even the conservatives and survivalists, the miscellaneous patriots so full with bluster and rights, they’ll settle for disempowerment and this human mess in exchange for a gun to shoot, a barrel and a trigger to allow themselves feel mighty in their own yard.”

“A quick secret, let me say: the key to adventure, indeed, perhaps the only thing that qualifies as an adventure at all, is terrible kit. Bad kit is the least contrived route to the life affirmation that comes when you wind up marching an hour through Ohio’s pouring rain in the middle of the night. Adventure is borrowing kit because you can’t really afford your own, for a journey that you are making for almost no reason other than idle idiocy, a journey that seems more stupid the longer you think about it. […] [t]he only payment [you receive for doing this] are the stories you amass and the vague hope that some person younger than you also winds up smitten by the idea that that’s what their life was meant for, and so passes the infection to another generation.”

“The truth that I can tell him is that people do the things they want to do. The things they don’t end up doing it’s because, really, they didn’t want to do them. They liked the idea more than the reality, or else talked about them enough to realize they no longer needed to follow through. That’s the bottom line.”

“Trucking is the archetypal American job. In it are the freedom of the open road, the undeniable wonder of the nation’s landscape, and a strong dose of individual, noble sacrifice that, eventually, comes to replace the money-to-be-made promise that first sets drivers on their journey through perpetual poverty. Still lively with the excitement of youth and the riches that will come, at first it seems a good idea. Ultimately, by the time it dawns that the job is only treading water, living an all but stateless three square-meters, truckers can come to take pride instead in their obedience, subservience, rather than confronting the unfairness of the initial illusion of a system that would ever have enriched their small lives to begin with. They often come to resent those who ultimately have less, and are obliged by an ideology of wealth to respect those who have more.”