BookBrowse Reviews The Great Northern Express by Howard F. Mosher

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Great Northern Express

A Writer's Journey Home

by Howard F. Mosher

The Great Northern Express by Howard F. Mosher X
The Great Northern Express by Howard F. Mosher
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2012, 256 pages

    Mar 2013, 256 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder
Buy This Book

About this Book



The humorous chronicles of Howard Frank Mosher's road trip across America after being diagnosed with cancer

Cancer is the impetus that gets Howard Frank Mosher rolling on the road trip he describes in The Great Northern Express. He makes sure you know, however, that this is not "an inspirational memoir extolling how, with the help of a brilliant doctor, a breakthrough procedure in radiation therapy, and a supportive family, I licked prostate cancer."

Mosher admits to having had writerly fantasies about the day he would receive a momentous letter in the mail telling him he's won a genius grant for lifetime achievement. When an important letter does show up, it's not the one he wants, but he chooses to read his cancer diagnosis as his own personal MacArthur Fellowship. As soon as he finishes his radiation treatments, he launches on a meandering cross-country book tour conducted in the spirit of carpe diem. A litany of seedy hotels and wonderful independent bookstores follows, as does an ongoing conversation about how he started down the road of his career path. Often, as he ponders where he's been, he converses with imaginary interlocutors in the front seat - Mark Twain, Oliver Sacks, his deceased Uncle Reg, or a beer-swilling fellow he calls "The West Texas Jesus."

Mosher's voice is ebullient. His sense of humor plays lightly on themes of literature, mortality, and nostalgia, as if he were composing jazz riffs on an old banjo. Carl Hiaasen is quoted on the book jacket, comparing Mosher to Mark Twain - and the comparison is apt. It's a pleasure to be traveling in the company of his well-trained eye, always on the look-out for absurd conjunctions of American life. Like Twain, he locates poetry in the realm of the everyday - in the roadways and hotels and regular folks along the way. He also makes a point of encountering literature in its natural element - the diverse and non-standardized world of the slightly funky and highly endangered independent bookstore. There is an understated sense that he is celebrating an America that is itself in decline; as the author feels his own mortality, so too do the bookstores and the unique, distinct geographical regions Mosher admires.

In his previous novels about "The Kingdom," the northeastern corner of Vermont, Mosher finds a place in the fine, old American literary tradition of regionalism. Threaded through The Great Northern Express is a narrative that unfolds how Mosher came to that region in 1964 and made it his own. He describes the process by which he and his wife Phyllis settled in The Kingdom, how they entered into the local culture and made the choice to stay there. It's a fascinating story and, in our rootless age, an uncommon one.

Mosher begins to convey his weariness by the end of the book - as his post-radiation body and his twenty-year-old Chevy (dubbed the "Loser Cruiser") grow tired from the time on the road, the reader may flag a little. There are moments when the paragraphs about the kind owners of yet another independent bookstore seem obligatory. Still, the humor and the growing connection to the characters in his stories keep the book moving forward. I came away with a strong feeling that my journey with Howard Frank Mosher was just beginning. Perhaps the perfect reader for this book would be someone who already knows Mosher's work and can read it as the summary of an already beloved career. But readers who, like me, are meeting Mosher for the first time, may find this a delightful send-off into the world of his novels.

Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in April 2012, and has been updated for the March 2013 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Great Northern Express, try these:

  • The Trip to Echo Spring jacket

    The Trip to Echo Spring

    by Olivia Laing

    Published 2014

    About this book

    More by this author

    Why is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them?

  • Amy Falls Down jacket

    Amy Falls Down

    by Jincy Willett

    Published 2014

    About this book

    A scathingly funny and wickedly humorous roman-a-clef by one of our most acclaimed literary humorists - about a bitterly uninspired writer who decides to change her life after a freak accident.

We have 10 read-alikes for The Great Northern Express, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Howard Mosher
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Where Coyotes Howl
    Where Coyotes Howl
    by Sandra Dallas
    Where Coyotes Howl may appear to be a classically conventional historical novel — a wide-eyed ...
  • Book Jacket: After the Miracle
    After the Miracle
    by Max Wallace
    Many people have heard one particular story about Helen Keller—how the saintly teacher, Annie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Wife
    The Lost Wife
    by Susanna Moore
    The Lost Wife is a hard-hitting novella based in part on a white settler named Sarah Wakefield's ...
  • Book Jacket
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Nazi Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
Currently a New York Times bestseller: The true story of a Nazi plot to kill FDR, Stalin, and Churchill during WWII.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.