Reviewer Lois C. Henderson: Lois is a freelance academic editor and back-of-book indexer, who spends most of her free time compiling word search puzzles for tourism and educative purposes. Her puzzles are available HERE and HERE Her Twitter account (@LoisCHenderson) mainly focusses on the toponymy of British place names. Please feel welcome to contact her with any feedback at LoisCourtenayHenderson@gmail.com.
Author: Brad Herzog
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corp
ISBN-13: 978-0-8065-3202-8. ISBN-10: 0-8065-3202-5.
Frankly, after encountering Paul Theroux’s well-written travelogues of life on the road, I never again expected to find another travel writer who appealed to me more – that was until I started reading Brad Herzog’s Turn Left at the Trojan Horse. Herzog’s third travelogue, which follows on States of Mind and Small World, takes one on a well-illustrated road journey across America all the way from Seattle, Washington to Ithaca, New York. But this is no mere travel guide, as the author’s concerns range widely from death and immortality, to individual and corporate leadership, and friendship and self-awareness, among countless other topics.
Sometimes irreverent, always witty, and even occasionally punning, Herzog is not shy of telling the odd joke. Master of a self-deprecatory style, he succeeds in revealing his own shortcomings, of both a physical and intellectual nature (the latter which the skill of his own writing totally refutes). Probing deeply into those whom he meets along the way, Herzog focuses on the inner workings of those whom he meets, so that the work is much more than a travelogue of places that are slightly off the beaten track, but more an exploration and unpicking of what makes America so exceptional – the individuals who, with their pioneering spirit, conquer all adversity to soar above the mundane into the realms of the metaphysical. He penetrates the core of what makes society tick, in terms of the conglomerate of personalities who form the backbone of the nation.
Reminiscent in parts of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, Turn Left at the Trojan Horse is filled with down home common sense. Only fleeting reference is made to road and weather conditions, just enough to keep the reader on track of the author’s progress through the changing landscape. Such descriptions enable Herzog to focus in on one of his primary concerns, a desire to explore qualities of the human psyche, relating the qualities found in those whom he encounters with those of mythical heroes and heroines in terms of both their failings and achievements. In an age in which much of mythology, that used to be force-fed into youngsters alongside the classics, is no longer the basic staple of a scholar’s diet, Brad Herzog brings the doings of those on Mount Olympus to the level of everyday humanity whom he encounters in his travels across America.
In keeping with those in whose footsteps Herzog treads, such as the pioneering Lewis and Clark, dangers abound, no matter whether it is Brad’s precipice-hugging drive down to Troy in his Winnebago Aspect, or his sitting upfront in a canoe steered by a pot-smoking reprobate. Yet home itself is always just around the corner, whether in Brad’s revelations about his own life and home, or in the heart-warming anecdotes of the often whimsy-driven individuals whom he meets along the way.
No stranger to Hicksville, Herzog revels in small-town gossip that reveals so much of small town life. The broad-minded tolerance that he encounters in such places belies any vision that one might otherwise have of the antagonism that is sometimes reflected in the movie moguls’ depiction of such a lifestyle (think only of John Boorman’s epic movie of such a counter-culture in Deliverance, and you get the picture).
Citing philosophers, both ancient and modern, Hertzog displays his erudition so succinctly and smoothly that the reader glides along, absorbing a wealth of information with a minimum of effort. The vibrancy of the text scintillates with meaning and veracity – in short, there is no room for pedantic self-importance here, with Herzog at times reminding one of an amiable and affable modern-day Americanized version of the delightfully eccentric Mr. Chips. He is, after all, master of the literary device, including the anti-climax.
A book of tragedies and home truths, Turn Left at the Trojan Horse is a poetic rendition of fact. In addition, the work is extremely well edited – there are no trivialities here, with each part adding yet additional substance to the synchronized whole. The fluency of Herzog’s writing is as smooth as well-churned butter and as pithy as the fibrous knots on an aged tree.
My only regret about the book is that it contains no index – I would have loved to have seen one referring to all the classical figures, place names and characters that Herzog meets along the way. What would also have been most helpful in this cross-country expedition would have been a map showing the author’s progress cross-state and county, indicating all his stop-off points.
Herzog’s stylish and elegant prose carries you along, swept up in the pace, so that you find yourself crying over every tale of pathos and rejoicing over the slightest victory. The sense of boyish enthusiasm with which Herzog embarks on all his adventures is counter-balanced by his possession of a maturity beyond his years. While Herzog’s journalistic background allows him to provide graphic accounts of natural disasters, including the havoc caused by the Grand Forks floods and by the tornado that swept through Siren in 2001, his maverick tendencies enable him to intentionally set out to praise the merit-worthy and to describe the generally overlooked.
Whether you finish reading this volume sniggering away to yourself or in pensive reflection depends on you, but that the work is likely to leave you entertained, amused and deeply wondering about the habits and idiosyncrasies of modern-day rural Americans is certain. In brief, Brad Herzog’s Turn Left at the Trojan Horse is a rollicking grand adventure, and one not to be missed!