Back Roads Paperback – 6 Aug 2001
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Not since SE Hinton (The Outsiders) has a female novelist penned such a tough and titillating portrait of lower-class, crime-ridden manhood than Tawni O'Dell in Back Roads. Set in "beautiful, ruined" western Pennsylvania, amid Eat n' Parks and Lick n' Putts, the novel follows Harley Altmyer as he walks a raging, self-conscious line between crime and innocence. Why is he being held by the authorities, and what's he so mad about? In the recent past, it's his mother, who murdered his father and went to jail for life. In the far past, it's Dad himself: an abusive, hopeless man. In the present, it's the responsibility for h is three younger sisters, which makes him fantasize about smashing their faces in until they "spit up bloody macaroni and cheese".
This first novel opens well. O'Dell does an impeccable job of making Harley both brutal and forgivable but Back Roads risks becoming an overabundant affair, pitched high, with a roller-coaster trajectory. Harley' s anger metamorphoses into an almost bloodthirsty lust for his sexy, middle-aged neighbour, which stirs up myriad forbidden family secrets. Misty, it turns out, has been hiding something. Amber revolts. And even Jody's scribbles turn malevolent. While the writing is good throughout, the tension and plotting assume an unpleasant adolescent posture--bodice-ripping passion and mordant gloom combined. Nonetheless, O'Dell's assured and touching portrait of her protagonist emerges unscathed. You will likely remember luckless, fated Harley Altmyer long after his tsunamic tale has receded. --Jean Lenihan, Amazon.com
A remarkably accomplished debut novel already being compared to The Catcher in the Rye...authentic and captivating. -- Daily Mail
An intense story of family, fraility and dysfunction captivatingly told. -- Chicago Tribune
Heart-breakingly honest...Beautifully written...A journey into the world of dysfunctional despair. -- San Diego Union
Tense, conflicted and involving, o'Dell deftly captures the voice of a teenage boy who's in trouble and facing profound challenges. -- New York Times
Top Customer Reviews
Tawni O'Dell's stamping ground is rural Pennsylvania and it's grim - a backwater with a legacy of coal mining, poverty, hunting and domestic violence. The central character is Hartley, 18 years old, who is desperately trying to keep his family together after the worst of events: his mother shot his father in the family home. With his mother now in prison, Hartley has become both breadwinner and parent to his three sisters. The story focusses on his worries, his cares and the way that he vacillates between extreme maturity and extreme immaturity: it's a confusing and harsh world for a boy who is barely a man, a boy who has next to no adult support.
I'm very glad that I finally got around to reading this book. Through Harley, O'Dell offers an exploration of the way in which environment and expectations have as much ability to destroy a person as to make a person. A very thoughtful and sensitive piece of writing.
The novel explores difficult issues: child abuse, adultery, incest. Nevertheless, O'Dell is a compelling storyteller and does an excellent job of making you care about the characters, as they develop and grow. O'Dell's book is dark and raw, but contains much gritty humour. The end is satisfying, compelling and redemptive. Readers who liked White Oleander, by Janet Fitch, which also deals with a child left to fend alone after their sole parent is imprisoned, will love this book too. Incredibly well written, don't miss this one!
The strength of this novel is the fact that the events are seen through Harley's young mind. He is often confused because he is not mature enough to have two jobs and educate his younger sisters at the same time. They in turn consider him more as a brother than a father and as a result there are frequent rows between them, especially between Harley and the elder girl Amber who strives for independence. But Harley is very much concerned by the well being of the girls and his worries even once make him have a hallucinatory vision of finding them dead at home, piled up in a pool of blood.
At the same time he is looking for a girlfriend and wonders if it is possible to love someone without getting personally involved, without any mutual feeling or judgement. His first relationship is a confused one with a neighbour, Callie Mercer, wife of a bank manager and mother of two children. And Harley often recalls his father and how he used to ill treat his children.
His struggle in life is all the more impressive since he gets no support at all from any adult, not even his uncle Mike.
Do you know how it feels? To be a nineteen year old boy living in a run down place in Pennsylvania? To be working two jobs just to make ends meet as you have to care for your three younger sisters? To watch your sixteen year old sister go off the rails by giving herself to any man who wants her? To know that you’re looking after your sisters because your mother is in jail for murder? To know that your father isn’t coming home because it’s his murder your mother has been jailed for? No? Well, neither did I.
But now I think I do. And that is possibly the greatest compliment I can pay Tawni O’Dell. You don’t just read about Harley’s life, you live it alongside him. At some points, it reads almost like a stream of consciousness, at others almost as he is merely observing his own life from the outside, somehow disconnected from it. O’Dell’s writing style when you’re inside Harley’s thoughts is one of short sentences, sometimes merely fragments, occasionally jumping, as if you’re inside his head. This serves only to drag you in deeper.
Harley Altmeyer is nineteen. He has been left along with his three sisters, sixteen year old Amber, who resents Harley spoiling all her fun, which generally involves trying to act grown up by having sex with anyone who offers. Twelve year old Misty, who hates him, and six year old Jody, who seems like any normal six year old.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
My eldest sister recommended this to me, and I was grabbed by her reference to The Catcher in the Rye, as she felt that Harley Altmyer, the 19-year-old who narrates the story in... Read morePublished on 16 April 2011 by bobbygw
THIS IS THE BEST BOOK EVER!!!!!!!!
I love how Harley makes you feel sorry for him but the next minuite you hate him with your soul. Read more
There were many hard hitting and harrowing storylines running through this novel. It didn't guard you from the horrors of these terrible things, but somehow it was touching and... Read morePublished on 8 Nov. 2004 by E. Deerin
This is a great read in a pretty short book. It deals with the aftermath of the death of one parent and the improsonment of another, on a youth who then has care of his three... Read morePublished on 24 Feb. 2003 by E. Foley
I bought this book purely because it was on Oprah's Book Club, and I'm glad I did.
This is certainly not for the faint-hearted or the easily offended. Read more
I first heard of this book in March 2000 on Oprah Winfrey's Book Club. Having enjoyed others in her book club series - and having seen an interview with the author i felt i HAD to... Read morePublished on 7 Jan. 2001
This book is truly unique! Despite the numerous tragic events, the text is somehow not depressing. It is full of suspense and is truly well written. Read morePublished on 17 Sept. 2000