Magazine article The Spectator

Keeping the Show on the Road

Magazine article The Spectator

Keeping the Show on the Road

Article excerpt

COAST TO COAST by Frederic Raphael Orion, 16.99, pp. 231

Some years ago I published a book about English fiction of the post-1945 era called -- unremarkably, it seemed to me After the War. Barely had the first copy hit the shelves at Hatchard's than the post brought an immensely cross and triumphantly sarcastic letter from Frederic Raphael, accusing me of plagiarising the title of a novel of his. There was no address, so I couldn't write back. Enquiry revealed that Raphael is a famously stroppy correspondent, liable to take offence at the slightest provocation, or in this case, as there must have been half-a-dozen books called After the War in print at the time, no provocation at all. No doubt what follows will bring another icy missive whistling in from cyberspace, but never mind.

Coast to Coast takes in a journey across America undertaken by a middle-aged couple named Pierce, whose male half, Barnaby, is a successful writer of television comedy shows. Predictably, this calling has given him an ironic, if not mordant, outlook on life. His other half, Marion, rather thinks she wants a divorce. At any rate the novel opens with them selling their New England house before heading west with their sights set ultimately on Seattle and the marriage of their son, Benjamin. The car, a vintage Jaguar, is booked as a wedding present.

The Pierces' route from the northeastern corner to the north-western extremity of this great nation of theirs is circuitous. A series of stop-overs finds them billeted on a succession of friends, relatives and ancient connections: Marion's sister and her farmer husband; an old college tutor; Barnie's former writing partner Stanley. As you might imagine, each reencounter yields up a fresh perspective on their past life and their present uncertainties, from the college tutor's house where they first made love, to a steely interrogation courtesy of their daughter Stace. …

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