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July 15, 2008

Forgotten Fiction - CLASSICS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

The Dog of the South

(By Charles Portis.

First published in 1979.)


“My wife Norma had run off with Guy Dupree and I was waiting around for the credit card billings to come in so I could see where they had gone.” In another author’s hands, this opening sentence might lead straight to a lame Raymond Chandler imitation. But Charles Portis is quite possibly the most underrated Southern comic novelist of the last century.

“The Dog of the South,” as you’ve probably guessed, is not about a dog — unless you define dog as son-of-a-female-dog. Rather, it is the seductive and wandering story of Ray Midge’s search for his beloved Norma (or so he believes her to be). In the course of traveling the South in a big old Buick, he and his confidante, Dr. Reo Symes, are accosted by tropical storms, hippies, litter and, of course, car trouble. 

“The Dog of the South” by Charles Portis. First published in 1979.
“The Dog of the South” by Charles Portis. First published in 1979.

Ultimately, the story turns out to be much more about Ray Midge’s observations and his stance toward life in his particular era than it is about the literal search for Norma. It’s a narrative full of gems like this one: “I had to keep the Buick speed below what I took to be about sixty because at that point the wind came up through the floor hole in such a way that the Heath wrappers were suspended behind my head in a noisy brown vortex.” —Mary Welp