Friday, September 25, 2015

Review: "You Have To Be Careful in the Land of the Free" by James Kelman

Surprisingly, the language, a lot of phonetic spellings of Scottish mispronunciations and accented phrasings is not the biggest problem with Scottish writer James Kelman’s novel, You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free. It’s actually one of the strong points of this, and of Kelman’s work in general. It has an odd sort of grungy poetry to it, making mundane actions look like profound movements, giving a humble voice to someone who may have the intellectual capability to understand their situation, but not the vocabulary, much like American author Larry Brown did for his Mississippi, now that I have read novels by both authors. It is also very funny at times and very dreary as well, offering the full spectrum of human extremes. It is too bad that with this book, all of that is transposed onto to someone who is as unpleasant and uninteresting as the novel’s narrator. Jeremiah Brown, a Scottish immigrant, is spending what he feels are his last days in the United States before he goes back to Glasgow to visit his mother. He spends most of his time in a bar, or maybe many bars, since the book takes stream of consciousness narration to the extreme by offering no chapter stops and little indication as to whether something is happening in the present or past. It’s not too unwieldy; since the book offers many acute scenes of desperation and bliss, from his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Yasmin, a woman whose ambition matches his lack thereof, to his guilt at leaving an unknown child back in the states. Kelman is a serious novelist who tackles serious subjects, but this book seems like a large misstep, focusing instead on flippant musings against America from someone I’d argue reaped more benefits than he’d like to admit. Still, reading this, or any of his books, is quite an experience for those unfamiliar, and fresh to one of Europe’s greatest living writers.

Rating: 3/5

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