This is brilliant. Absolutely extraordinary. Which is not surprising, because it is by James Kelman. And he is a writer who is always worth reading. He is not necessarily easy to read, but that is all to the good. Because he makes you think. In this case he has decided to write with the urgency of a bereaved young man, not quite 17, who has gone to the USA, to Alabama, with his father to visit relatives. And it is a voice that leads you into the book, and hooks you into the story.
Murdo, and his father Tom, is mourning the death of his mother. The visit to his father’s Uncle John and Aunt Maureen is supposed to help them come to terms with their grief. The only other thing that you have to know is that Murdo is a talented musician and, on the bus journey to Uncle John, he has a chance encounter with a family of Zydeco musicians who take a liking to him. The story is about what happens as a result of this, how the relationship develops between Murdo and Tom. Any further comment will spoil the story, and that would be a shame. It is an amazing story told with a mesmerising skill.
“Dirt Road”has a poetic quality. Each sentence is written with a rhythm that captivates. It is possibly a Zydeco rhythm, but I do not know enough about the musical genre to be certain of that. You can almost hear the accordeon playing the tune, as you read each sentence. It is a very extraordinary skill, a very special ability that can achieve such an effect. And no, I have not misspelt accordion. Kelman spells it accordeon throughout the book. There is a reason for that, based in the origins of Zydeco music, but you will have to read the book to find out what it is.
Each sentence also catches Murdo’s voice, and he is a very personable young man, understandably confused by the death of his mother, and the death of his older sister when she was 12. It is the voice of someone trying to understand the world. It is this voice that makes the book extraordinary, that captivated me as a reader and which, I think, will have the same effect on others.
This is truly a book that I did not want to put down. And I did not do so until I had finished the story.