The Great Northern Express by Howard Frank Mosher

The author, in his 60s and recovering from cancer, takes to the road on a book tour with mixed results.  In Mosher’s mind, his trip is a tribute of sorts to Reg Bennett, his honorary uncle, whose life observations greatly inspired him.  In fact, he and Reg fully intended to make such a trip together, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Still, his uncle and a cast of others provide imaginary commentary for the author along his great trek of the United States, in which he sees the finer sights of the country, the best independent bookstores, and sometimes neither of these, in this anecdotal memoir that reads quickly and humorously – like a mischievous version of Blue Highways.

The Great Northern Express is written in short chapters that alternate between the time of Mosher’s trip (present time, maybe a few years back) and the first year of his marriage, in which he and his wife teach school in a remote Vermont town in the 1960s.   Mosher meets some serious characters in both eras.  There’s the unbridled high school principal with a passion for teaching and the bottle, the farm kids Mosher teaches who have their own minds about school come deer or maple syrup season, and the other inspirational folks that give their small village its backbone.  In the present time chapters, it’s the bookstore owners or the crazy drunks that make his road life interesting, not to mention his near brush with another known author.  Then there’s his imaginary companions, which include his uncle and a Corona-swilling sidekick the author calls the West Texas Jesus.  To make things even scarier, he drives his old beater of a car cross-country in what has to be a extreme practice of faith.

I thought The Great Northern Express would be a gentle read, and it is in places, but there’s enough subtly placed bits of lunacy to bring on a belly laugh or two… or twenty. 

Here’s a list of Howard Frank Mosher’s books the library has.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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