Book Review: States of Confusion by Paul Jury (3/5)

16 Jan

I saw a YouTube video right around the time I started this blog that made me laugh (see link below). It made me decide I wanted to read the creator’s book about his journey around the US. Over three years and one interlibrary loan later, I got my hands on a copy and read through it pretty fast.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

States of Confusion: My 19,000 Mile Detour to Find Direction by Paul Jury

Summary from Goodreads:

Rather than deal with the problems he was facing as a recent college grad, Paul Jury decided to leave them in his rearview mirror. He might not have known the direction his life was headed, but he knew the route he was taking to hit all forty-eight contiguous states on one epic road trip. Filled with plenty of adventure and the unforeseen obstacle (or twelve), this book puts you in shotgun to see where the road takes Paul. All he knows–after crashing on the beer-soaked couch of his younger brother’s frat–is that there’s no going back. Paul Jury graduated from Northwestern University and headed on a road trip before finally getting a gig as a writer in LA.

When I put this book on my TBR, it would have been beyond perfect for me. I had just changed jobs and was entertaining the idea of going back to grad school. I was newly married to my amazing husband and slumming it on a bad apartment while we waited for him to finish his student teaching and for me to recover from a bad job. That’s the frame of mind to be in when reading this book. I tried to reflect on that lost feeling I had at that time when I wasn’t sure where I was going but was content to be on the road there. That’s how Paul must have felt. The jobs he had were OK but not right and he wasn’t sure he was in the right place, to begin with. This is a good book for someone just past a major change in their life, be in ending college, a relationship, or a job. It’s not a travel book. Right now, in 2017, that was what I was looking for and it came up short. I wanted to hear more about the things Paul saw in this 19,000-mile drive and a bit less about his debate to be a writer or not. I appreciated the bits about training for a marathon and living off PB&J but I wanted to hear more about the 4 Corners and surfing in LA. It just wasn’t exactly what I wanted today.

I wasn’t sure what to think of Paul. He was a fraternity guy and seemed to hit a lot of those stereotypes but he also seemed like a bit of a free spirit, which is a very different visual in my mind. I couldn’t tell how much of his personality was what he wanted me to think of him (putting on a face) and how much was credible and real to life. The same goes for Sarah. Because Paul was alone so often, it was hard to judge him based on his interactions with people. A lot of what we get from him is internal dialogue. It makes it hard to figure him out.

I think I’m Sarah. I was someone looking to settle down after school and I thought I had a plan. I got a ‘practical’ degree and had a job lined up when I graduated (in which I lasted six months). I couldn’t understand how Paul was OK with having so little direction and so much uncertainty in his life. Even at the end, when he ‘knows’ where he wants to go, there’s a lot he doesn’t know ahead of him. I related to Sarah who wanted to follow her plan and was frustrated when Paul wanted to deviate. As Paul says there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s who I am and not who he is.

I felt bad for his mom the whole book. She was obviously worried about him but trying to be supportive which was a tough combination. Paul was doing something crazy but admirable at the same time. It would scare me not to know where my (theoretical) son was and know he was in such an unreliable vehicle (or two).

Paul Jury Image via Tutor Profiles

Paul Jury
Image via Tutor Profiles

I liked Paul’s journey around the northwest. I’m trying to find a time this summer to explore that area and it was great to hear him speaking so reverently about the scenery in that part of the country. I will, however, try to make it all the way to Seattle. I’m dying to go and check it out.

I felt a lot of the people Paul visited didn’t add much to the book. I would have liked to either see them play a larger part in his story and be flushed out more or ignored completely to let the story come through better. It felt like name dropping but the names didn’t matter to me.


There are many ‘finding myself’ stories out there and this is an admirable one. Paul set a stiff goal for himself when he said he’d see 48 states in 48 days and sometimes he was reckless to make that goal. I see that in a lot of searching novels. Driving 19,000 miles would give one plenty of time to explore anything that got stuck in your head. The same as seeing Italy and Bali or hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Everyone will go about it in a different way. I think the idea of a journey helps people along the road and being a writer helps even more. I don’t think it always makes for a good read and unfortunately, that’s where this fell short for me. A journey has stops along the way and for me, Paul didn’t take much from his stops and that made it hard to see the journey as part of him finding himself. He seemed to use the quiet time between places to find himself. He could have meditated or gone for walks to do the same thing. It lacked some meaning to me.

Writer’s Takeaway:  This book is a good study for someone thinking of writing a memoir. Sometimes you need to wait. I think Paul could have taken a lot from his trip but he needed hindsight to see the growth it brought him and see how his journey helped him end up where he needed to be. It seems like this book was primarily written from the blog posts Paul composed along the way and I think they needed a bit more reflecting to give the book the ‘growth’ quality it was going for. Paul’s decisions at the end seemed a bit out of left field. I think he saw them coming, but the reader did not.

Enjoyable to be sure, but not life changing. The images of Indiana and Illinois were switched in my copy. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Roadside Kitsch | Erin Writes


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