Books

Across America with the Boys, by Matthew Collins (MATC, pounds 6.99)

Setting off in search of the Great American Adventure has become a surprisingly popular literary form for a nation as young as the US.

But Collins sets off for the States in an attempt to seal the bond with his two pre-school children, Charlie and Nicolai, while allowing Russian wife, Khelga, to establish herself in her new job back in London.

So far so good. As premises go, this is all very promising - father and sons, clashes of culture, humour, self-knowledge and personal development are all on the cards. And yet Collins's text does little more than demonstrate the ease with which even the exceptional can be rendered banal and commonplace.

One of the problems is that the book never manages to escape the most flat and uninspired of cliches as the reader is led along a series of well-trodden paths of stereotype. It is surely not enough to pepper dialogue with references to "cute" accents, British reserve and the American mix of ignorance and magnanimity. Nor do we need to read episode after episode of ritualised and sitcomesque disasters.

Collins and his troupe pass through redneck territory, the Grand Canyon, the Smoky Mountains and Las Vegas, meeting a whole host of individuals, and yet at no point do any of the places take on any three-dimensionality or any of the characters escape the limitations of caricature.

What might have made all the difference is the sort of dry, wry humour of the self-professed wimp, but Collins can't even manage that, so the few memorable moments are provided by his three and four-year-old sons.

As the spirited Charlie challenges a pair of Hell's Angels, saying that he, too, is going to get a tattoo - of Postman Pat - we can imagine his father just fading into the background.

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