Considering I’m currently reading Travels With Charley (and even quoted it in my previous post), I figured I’d comment briefly on the recent revelation that John Steinbeck may have fabricated parts of his supposedly non-fiction travelogue.
I don’t mind so much that Steinbeck may have fudged some of the books’ conversations. The dialogue did seem a little wooden to me, which led me to assume he was either reconstructing those conversations from memory or making composites of multiple similar conversations he had along the way. So no big deal there, far as I’m concerned.
But my biggest disappointment was learning that Steinbeck’s wife probably joined him and the dog for much of their cross-country road trip. Much of the book’s charm comes from the premise that it’s just a man and his poodle hitting the road to discover America, and a few passages even describe the loneliness Steinbeck feels. So in that sense, I feel cheated. I’m sure his wife was a fine woman, but the book just isn’t the same if she’s there.
Perhaps it’s not as bad as the lies James Frey told; Steinbeck’s lies only make him appear slightly more bad-ass and sympathetic than the truth. Also, I’d argue that much, if not most of the great writing in Travels With Charley is made up of philosophical musings and life-long observations which have little to do with the events that may or may not have occurred during Steinbeck’s road trip. So I’m going to partake in a little revisionist history and declare that Travels With Charley is actually a Post-Modern Semi-Fictional Travelogue starring “John Steinbeck,” a satirical subversion of the legendary American writer’s persona. And despite being predicated upon lies, it’s a fascinating and thought-provoking look at Mid-20th Century America that remains relevant in Early 21st Century America.