CLEVELAND will never be mistaken for Paris, and I don't foresee Ken Sobol and Julie Macfie Sobol's Looking for Lake Erie (Viking, 297 pages, $29.99 cloth) crowding A Year in Provence off the shelves any time soon. But still, it's a funny, quirky, informative travel book that actually manages to find its elusive quarry. Especially for anyone living close enough to the most denigrated Great Lake to follow in the authors' tracks, this is a literary tour worth taking.
The Sobols are witty, companionable guides, and their portraits of places like Niagara Falls and Buffalo are concise and depressingly accurate, yet somehow manage to bring out the perverse charm of these neglected tourist magnets. Their thumbnail sketches of many of the small towns that dot the shore also ring colourfully true. I would love to visit, for example, the dissolute pub in Port Colborne, Ontario, where the locals delighted in a boozy evening of faux sumo wrestling in padded outfits:
Even as we stared in dreamlike fascination the racket rose to a point where it drowned out every trace of their grunts and shrieks', transforming the scene into a kind of deafeningly loud, incomprehensibly symbolic silent film -- early Bergman as interpreted by Mack Sennett with a sound track by Megadeth.
While much of the authors' journey was spent in the low-rent district of travel-writing paradise, there's much here to pique the interest of travellers looking for more than a packaged group-tour of garden spots.