Dirt Road Hardcover - 14 Jul 2016 by James Kelman

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Dirt Road is a life-affirming novel, in which Kelman paints a convincing and at times moving portrait of two likable characters on the road to fulfilment and recovery.
-Guardian

Synopsis

Booker Prize winner James Kelman's new novel, Dirt Road, tells the story of a teenage boy who travels with his father from Scotland to Alabama to visit with relatives after the death of his mother. In the American South, he becomes swept up into the world of zydeco and blues. "A powerful meditation on loss, life, death, and the bond between father and son. . . . Kelman has created a fully-realized, relatable voice that reveals a young man’s urgent need for connection in a time of grief." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)


After his mother’s recent death, sixteen-year-old Murdo and his father travel from their home in rural Scotland to Alabama to be with his émigré uncle and American aunt. Stopping at a small town on their way from the airport, Murdo happens upon a family playing zydeco music and joins them, leaving with a gift of two CDs of Southern American songs. On this first visit to the States, Murdo notices racial tension, religious fundamentalism, the threat of severe weather, guns, and aggressive behavior, all unfamiliar to him. Yet his connection to the place strengthens by way of its musical culture. Murdo may be young but he is already a musician.



While at their relatives’ home, the grieving father and son experience kindness and kinship but share few words of comfort with each other, Murdo losing himself in music and his reticent and protective dad in books. The aunt, “the very very best,” Murdo calls her, provides whatever solace he receives, until his father comes around in a scene of great emotional release.



As James Wood has written of this brilliant writer’s previous work in The New Yorker, “The pleasure, as always in Kelman, is being allowed to inhabit mental meandering and half-finished thoughts, digressions and wayward jokes, so that we are present” with his characters. Dirt Road is a powerful story about the strength of family ties, the consolation of music, and one unforgettable journey from darkness to light.

 

About James Kelman

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James Kelman was born in Glasgow in 1946, left school at the earliest opportunity, and began working life in a factory aged 15. Emigrated with his family to California in 1963, returned to Scotland 1964. Kelman has worked at a variety of jobs ever since. He began writing while living in London aged twenty two and later met Texan writer Mary Gray Hughes. With her support his debut story collection, An Old Pub Near The Angel was published by Puckerbrush Press, Maine, in 1973. His fourth novel, How Late It Was, How Late, won the Booker Prize in 1994. His recent publications include story collections Busted Scotch and If it is your life; and novels, You have to be careful in the Land of the Free, Translated Accounts, and Kieron Smith, boy. Kelman has taught at the University of Texas in Austin, and San José State University, California. He and his wife live in Scotland, not far from their two daughters and two grandchildren.
 
Published July 1, 2017 by Catapult. 385 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, Literature & Fiction, Parenting & Relationships. Fiction
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Critic reviews for Dirt Road Hardcover - 14 Jul 2016
All: 4 | Positive: 4 | Negative: 0

Kirkus

Excellent
on Apr 18 2017

Their shared pain, efforts to understand each other, and slow acceptance of inevitable change are beautifully rendered. Kelman also conveys a gifted artist’s keen sensitivity to music as a treasured craft and maybe another kind of family. A rich tale of family, dislocation, the joys of creativity, and the torment of painful choices.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Benjamin Markovits on Sep 08 2017

It takes discipline for a writer to stick to the commonplace so religiously, but over time that discipline pays off. The ordinary becomes the real...

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Grace McCleen on Aug 14 2016

Dirt Road is a life-affirming novel, in which Kelman paints a convincing and at times moving portrait of two likable characters on the road to fulfilment and recovery.

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Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Kirsty Gunn on Jul 23 2016

In Dirt Road we see him continuing to show how human experience can be energised and renewed by its modest scale, not flattened by it into a stereotype. It is another masterpiece from one of our best writers.

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