The Next Page: The fabulism of ‘Travels With Charley’
Sorry, Charley: After criss-crossing America in the tracks of John Steinbeck’s ‘Travels With Charley,’ Bill Steigerwald came to a conclusion: The esteemed work is something of a fraud. (Victimless, perhaps, but still.)
By Bill Steigerwald
ALICE, N.D. — “Hah!” I blurted out as a million North Dakota cornstalks rattled in the pushy October wind.
“Who were you trying to kid, John? Who’d you think would ever believe you met a Shakespearean actor out here?”
For three weeks I had been retracing the 10,000-mile road trip Steinbeck made around America for his nonfiction bestseller “Travels With Charley,” and chronicling it for the Post-Gazette.
I wasn’t in the habit of speaking directly to the ghost of John Steinbeck. But I couldn’t stop from laughing at the joke that Steinbeck played on everyone in the pages of “Travels With Charley,” released in 1962 to national acclaim and still revered as a document of the American soul.
No one could hear me talking to Steinbeck’s ghost that Oct. 12 afternoon. I was parked on an unpaved farm road in the earthly equivalent of outer space — the cornfields of North Dakota, 47 miles southwest of Fargo.