The Next Better Place: A Father and Son on the Road

The Next Better Place: A Father and Son on the Road

5.0 3
by Michael C. Keith

In 1959, at the age of eleven, Michael Keith set off hitch-hiking with his eccentric, alcoholic dad, who was always looking for the next better place. Keith's funny, worldly-wise memoir, told without sentimentality describes his childhood spent in the rundown rooming houses and homeless missions of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth; in the carnivals of the Midwest and…  See more details below


In 1959, at the age of eleven, Michael Keith set off hitch-hiking with his eccentric, alcoholic dad, who was always looking for the next better place. Keith's funny, worldly-wise memoir, told without sentimentality describes his childhood spent in the rundown rooming houses and homeless missions of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth; in the carnivals of the Midwest and the casinos of Las Vegas; and in every two-bit town along the way, where they attend AA meetings just for coffee and a doughnut. The Next Better Place explores the fine line between wanderlust and compulsion, between running away and arriving.

Editorial Reviews

Elle Magazine
"Both a father-son love story and a unique American road saga."
Elle magazine
USA Today
"A moving and thoroughly engrossing testament to the resilience of the human spirit."
USA Today
Denver Rocky Mountain News
"[Has] the gritty realism of a smoke-filled flophouse and the wide-eyed joy of youth—an unusual combination but one that makes for a terrific tale."
Rocky Mountain News
Publisher's Weekly
...charming, often poetic memoir....
Larry King
As someone who lost his father when I was 9 1/2 years old, I found Michael C. Keith's remarkable story of an irresponsible father and an 11-year-old boy both poignant and very, very real. This is a moving memoir. A life-enduring tale.
Publishers Weekly
Former radio broadcaster Keith, a Boston College communications lecturer, tours his childhood in this charming, often poetic memoir, a hitchhiker travelogue that reads like Little League Kerouac. The journey begins in Albany, N.Y., in 1959, two years after Keith's parents divorced. Together, 11-year-old Mikey and his alcoholic father, Curt, plan their trip to California: "The West beckons, and I am dizzy with anticipation." The duo travels by Greyhound, stopping in New York City, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Denver along the way. They seek shelter in missions, motels and back-street rooming houses, finally arriving at the Encino Paradise Motel: "I think I'm happier than I have been in my whole life," Keith writes. They survive on stolen sardines and graham crackers between the odd jobs that Curt occasionally lands and encounter plenty of quirky characters, including a paranoid embalmer's assistant who has his umbrella filed into a weapon. From Los Angeles, they proceed to Las Vegas, Fort Worth and finally back to Albany. Keith brings to life these long-ago people and places. He doesn't shy away from his father's "bout with the bottle," but the boozy past is bathed in a wistful, rosy hue: "Sitting in a moving Greyhound is the closest I come to experiencing the bliss of home. If I could, I would live on one forever." Agent, Christi Cardenas. (Jan. 17) Forecast: In addition to national publicity and advertising, Keith will promote his memoir with an eight-city tour, which should spark further interest. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Keith relates the poignant story of a year he spent with his transient father back in 1959. His waitress mother had fallen on hard times financially and asked her ex-husband to take eleven-year-old Michael for the summer. Without consent, he leaves New York with the boy and begins a cross-country journey, supposedly for a plum job awaiting him in Hollywood. The father is woefully unprepared to care for his young son and fights demons of his own, particularly alcoholism. Although they sleep in flophouses and homeless shelters or sometimes outdoors, the boy thrives on the adventure, learning many life lessons through their travails. Living hand-to-mouth, they encounter a fair share of unusual characters, including carnies, juvenile delinquents, compassionate landladies, the mentally ill, and more than one sexual predator. Told from Michael's innocent point of view, the book is mostly humorous but occasionally brutally frank, such as when the author relates scatological details or his experiences with molestation. Although he aspires to be an actor and cannot wait to reach California, Michael discovers that the journey is the thrill, not the arrival. He anchors his father's life, and their bond strengthens. When he eventually returns to the stability of his mother's clean and secure home, it comes as no surprise that he soon yearns for the uncertainty of the open road. This fascinating memoir is recommended for mature readers who liked the McCourt brothers' autobiographies or Augusten Burroughs Running with Scissors (St. Martin's, 2002). VOYA CODES: 5Q 2P J S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Junior High, defined as grades 7to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2003, Algonquin, 288p,
— Kevin Beach
Library Journal
Although this autobiographical narrative is hardly an American version of Angela's Ashes, there are several parallels. The book recounts Keith's 11th year, in 1959, when his mother allowed him to live with his father because she could not care for her son and his two younger sisters. In the dubious charge of this man-a feckless alcoholic and drifter, dependent on the charity of others and the Catholic Church-Keith was always filthy, often hungry, and seldom in school. The quest for a better life in California took the hapless pair from Albany, NY, to Los Angeles and back again, with stops in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Denver, Las Vegas, and Fort Worth. It was a life-changing odyssey for both, managed via Greyhound and hitchhiking, peppered with unusual characters (including bums and bedbugs), and brightened by the kindness of strangers-all in search of "the next better place." Keith, now a broadcast media expert and the author of numerous books, skillfully and humorously re-creates his experience and his vision of a world that is rarely threatening and always full of promise and adventure. Recommended for all public libraries.-Janet Ross, formerly with Sparks Branch Lib., NV Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Memoir of a childhood waylaid by a miscreant alcoholic father, notable for the enduring affection that comes to the surface. Money is so tight for the author’s divorced mother in Albany, New York, that she sends 11-year-old Michael off to live with his estranged father, a sometime bellhop and jack of all menial hotel trades. She can barely support Michael’s two younger sisters on a waitress’s pay, and besides, received wisdom holds in the spring of 1959, "Boys should be with their father, and girls should be with their mother." Michael suspects he is unloved by either parent, but Dad’s scheme to ditch Albany and find a better life for the two of them in California quickly awakens what will grow into a fierce wanderlust. Keith (Communications/Boston Coll.) chronicles their peregrinations with graphic recall and a gift for detail. After the bus money runs out, they face the hitchhiker’s ultimate reality: you take what you get. Often penniless, sometimes on a shoestring that permits, for instance, a "Christmas dinner" consisting of calves liver and canned yams, they stumble westward, city by faceless city. In each venue, the elder Keith makes a show of providing for his son, picking up odd jobs (often via a newly acquired "friend" from a bar binge) but usually screwing up to the point where they go on the grift, convincing some kindly soul that a "letter with money from out of town" is due any day if they can just get a room and a few groceries. Left on his own while Dad is either working or sleeping one off, Michael gets buffeted by life at its seamiest—he’s once even charged as an accomplice to an armed robbery—while absorbing street smarts and coming dangerously close to lovingthe life he hates. A relentlessly gritty but good-humored tale of hope and survival. Author tour

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Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.75(h) x 1.10(d)

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The Next Better Place: A Father and Son on the Road 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Smiling ghosts of Mark Twain and Jack Kerouac hover over many pages of Michael Keith¿s ¿The Next Better Place.¿ This captivating book places Keith squarely in the same row with America¿s finest writers of the road adventure story. Which is to say that ¿The Next Better Place¿ is so much more than a memoir-cum-novel of a precocious son traversing America¿s great expanses with an ageing picaro of a father. Keith knows when to embroider his book¿s perfectly intoned dialogue, tremulous details, and charming teenage bravado with both lyrical pathos and hints at the perverse. The greatest American road novel, Vladimir Nabokov¿s ¿Lolita,¿ also came to mind as I devoured Keith¿s book, and I can only hope that Keith will soon reward his readers with another one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
That a kid could experience this kind of zany and maladjusted life and go on to distinquish himself is one of the amazing stories out there. Just read it and compare your childhood to Michael's.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had a chance to read the galley of this amazing book, and I was completely captivated by it. What a weird, wild, and wonderful odyssey. Qunitessentially American but universal at the same time. You want to laugh until you cry, and then cry until you laugh. Nothing quite like it. A fusion of the best things a memoir can be.