“The rest area was the same as on most American interstates I had seen. The northbound highway and the southbound highway eased apart to put a long fat bulge into the median. The buildings were shared by both sets of travelers. Therefore they had two fronts and no backs. They were built of brick and had dormant flower beds and leafless trees all around them. There were gas pumps. There were angled parking slots. Right then the place seemed to be halfway between quiet and busy. It was the end of the holidays. Families were struggling home, ready for school, ready for work. The parking slots were maybe one-third filled with cars. Their distribution was interesting. People had grabbed the first parking slot they saw rather than chancing something farther on, even though that might have put them ultimately a little closer to the food and the bathrooms. Maybe it was human nature. Some kind of insecurity.”
Two things. First, there’s the style, which is impeccable and consistent throughout the book — the observer, who I suppose is tacitly identified with the third-person main character here (and who narrates his observations in a similar clinical deadpan), provides a clear physical description, delivered in short factual sentences, generally without even so much as the interruption or complexity of a subordinate clause or a comma. It’s a very effective stylistic choice, given the genre and subject. Second, though — this description is of a bit of I-95 in North Carolina, not precisely a stretch of road I know intimately, but have driven, along with much of the Eastern Seaboard; the service plaza described is far more common on toll roads, down to the gas station provided, which would be (is?) anomalous on non-toll 95. But beyond that quibble — I’ve never seen a rest stop where people cluster near the entrance. Rather, as Americans, we get as close as possible with our cars before trusting our legs. All of this is minor, of course — but sets up a weird dissonance where the voice is entirely trustworthy but the information delivered is just a bit off.
July 15, 2010, 3:49pm Comments