Where the North Sea Touches Alabama

Allen C. Shelton. Univ. of Chicago, $20 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-226-07322-4
Self-proclaimed "minor Southern sociologist" and SUNY Buffalo professor Shelton's (Dreamworlds of Alabama) quasi-fictional, densely packed narrative concerning Patrik Keim—a marginal installation artist and collagist—is a mixed bag. Years after Keim commits suicide in Athens, Georgia, Shelton becomes convinced of his friend's supernatural return when a bulldozer briefly unearths a Civil War-era coffin near his Alabama farm. Drawing on, among others, Walter Benjamin and Franz Kafka, Shelton argues for the existence of underground rivers, portals, and underworlds that allow Keim to travel through time. Shelton, clearly enamored with his subject, is also interested in deciphering his own place in the world. Keim's "return" acts as a springboard for Shelton to probe his own life, from his home, which comes complete with ghost stories, to his failed marriage. While elements of the book (which is sectioned into brief chapters) excel, far too often Shelton veers in perplexing directions. An abundance of endnotes, some barely connected to the highlighted material, doesn't help, nor do long passages on seemingly irrelevant information. In the end, though, perhaps Shelton's vagueness is intentional. The book's thesis could be Keim's quote, "I feel the more ambiguous the better." (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/19/2013
Release date: 09/01/2013
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