William Least Heat-Moon Roads to Quoz

Thursday, 1 September 2011 

When you're looking at lifetime achievements, you may well be pushing it to find someone who could match the following statement:

If you put your finger on a map of the United States, I have been within at least 25 miles of that place.

William Least Heat-Moon (if you want to be pernickety and stick with things like birth certificates, William Lewis Trogdon, born 27 August 1939) made that statement, and, according to p. 504 of Roads to Quoz he's got the details logged in a 1966 U.S. road atlas to prove it.

You may look at that statement, and the topographical corroboration and ask why anyone would bother.

In that case you'd probably be advised to read no further, because Least Heat-Moon isn't likely to be your cup of tea.

On the other hand, having read and thoroughly enjoyed Blue Highways: A journey into America, PrairyErth (A Deep Map) and River Horse: A Voyage Across America, I was lining up for a copy of Least Heat-Moon's latest wanderings as soon as I noted its existence, though I must admit it took me a while to get through it.

Least Heat-Moon isn't the sort of writer that'll have you churning through the pages to find out what happens in the end, the way I've done recently with Stephen Booth and Stuart MacBride crime novels. It's more a case of keeping the book beside the reading chair and delving into the next part when the mood takes you.

And if the mood doesn't take you for a day, or a week, that's fine. It took me two months to finish a book that I started soon after it landed in the P.O. box in late June.

To deal with a few background issues…

First, the name. 

Least Heat-Moon, whose genealogy traces back through English, Irish and Amerindian (specifically Osage) roots, is the second son of a man who called himself Heat Moon. Since the big brother was Little Heat Moon, the youngest son would be Least Heat Moon, assuming, of course, that there are no further siblings down the line.

Second, the other titles in what's not an over-large bibliography given a writing career that stretches back over three decades.

1982's Blue Highways, effectively the travel journal associated with a three-month road trip in 1978 identified him as a writer worth following. 

Losing your job and separating from your wife is likely to leave a bloke at a loose end. While some might mope and hit the bottle, Heat-Moon hit the road, specifically the secondary roads coloured in blue on U.S. road maps, avoiding cities and travelling the back blocks as he circumnavigated the United States in a van called Ghost Dancing

Elvis Costello's My Dark Life contains references to obscure locations like Ugly Texas, Nameless Tennessee and Peculiar Missouri, and while the index to Blue Highways is completely bereft of mentions of Ugly and Peculiar the asterisk beside Nameless indicated a place of encounter or extended comment, as do similar marks beside such intriguing locations as Dime Box, Texas and Tuba City Arizona.


© Ian Hughes 2012