Norwood, by Charles Portis, is about a guy. His name his Norwood, and he hails from Ralph, Texas. That is the only explanation I can really give when anyone asks me what it’s about, but since I have time and paper, i’ll go into more depth. The book basically follows Norwood’s life over the course of a month or so. Sure, things happen, like meeting a wife on the bus and the World’s Second Shortest Perfect Man, but the way the Portis writes makes all the incidents feel mundane. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Quite the contrary. You see, one does not read Norwood for plot twists and adventure; no, one reads Norwood for Charles Portis’ hilarious characters and situations, and his deadpan sense of humor.
The chain of events is as follows: Norwood’s sister gets married to a guy who he dislikes; Norwood meets a con man who gives him a car and tells him to drive his annoying lady to New York, where he will receive money; Norwood figures he’s been duped and leaves the stolen cars and Yvonne in the middle of the desert (actually, Yvonne drives away); He hops a train, on which a hobo steals his boots while Norwood is sleeping; Norwood jumps off train, buys shoes from two wanderers; Gets on a bus where he sorta--and that is a key word-- falls in love with this girl; they stop in a town so the girl (Rita Lee) can go break up with her boyfriend; Meanwhile, Norwood meets the world’s second smallest perfect man; He tags along with them; Norwood also takes along a “college educated” chicken from an amusement park booth; On the way back, they stop at an old Marine Corps buddy of Norwood’s and get back the 70 dollars he owes him; He returns home, runs into guy that gave him the stolen cars, beats him up; He goes home. See, that is the most abridged way of summarizing it as I could muster. No doubt Norwood will have other similar adventures, but Charles Portis purposefully doesn’t delve into them. I think he did this because he only wanted to illustrate one period of this man’s life, and he does so with such great characters and wry humor that he, somehow, pulls it off.
My only qualm with Norwood is that once I finished it it left me with a sort of empty feeling. It’s difficult to explain, but it made my life, and everyone’s life, extremely, painfully mundane. And truthfully. Rather than making you think your life is mundane, he makes you realize your life is mundane. And that is a feat on it’s own.
And Charles Portis does all this while remaining extremely humble and unassuming, I think. Whatever you think, I highly recommend this book, even if it was written in ‘66. You will not be sorry.