The New York Times
You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Freeby James Kelman
Jeremiah Brown, a Scottish immigrant in his early thirties, has lived in the United States for twelve years. He has moved as many times, from the east coast to the west coast and back again, all in the hope his luck would change. To add to his restlessness and indecision, he now has a nonrefundable ticket to Glasgow to visit his mother for the first time in seven
Jeremiah Brown, a Scottish immigrant in his early thirties, has lived in the United States for twelve years. He has moved as many times, from the east coast to the west coast and back again, all in the hope his luck would change. To add to his restlessness and indecision, he now has a nonrefundable ticket to Glasgow to visit his mother for the first time in seven years. The question is, will the visit help him get over the pain of separation from a woman he met and loved in New York and with whom he had a little girl, or will it make it worse? In this rich, funny, superbly crafted novel, Kelman has once again created a memorable character-compulsive, obsessive, self-doubting, beer-loving, and utterly engaging-and a singular portrait of an immigrant's America
The New York Times
The Washington Post
"Very, very fine . . . It may also be the best-it's certainly the most paranoid-book we've had thus far about the political and social reverberations of 9/11 in this country . . . Deft and moving . . .Very funny."-THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
- Viking Penguin
- Publication date:
Read an Excerpt
I HAD BEEN LIVING ABROAD FOR TWELVE YEARS AND I was gaun hame, maybe forever, maybe a month. Once there it would sort itself out. In the meantime I fancied seeing my faimly again; my mother was still alive, and I had a sister and brother. The plane out of here was scheduled for one o'clock tomorrow afternoon. I was in a room at an Away Inn, out in the middle of nowhere, miles from the airport and miles from downtown, but it was cheap as **** so there we are and there I was. The woman on reception gied me a look when I asked if there was a bar within crawling distance. Then she thought a moment and told me if I walked a mile or so there was a place. She had a twinkle in her eye at the idea of the mile or so walk. Then she said she never used the place herself but reckoned they might do some food
I hadnay asked about food in the first place so how come she threw that in? I think I know why. I just cannay put it into words. But it turned my slow move to the door into a bolt for freedom. I had the anorak zipped right to the top, pulled the cap down low on my heid. Outside a freezing wind was blowing. Ye were expecting tumbleweed to appear but when it did it would be in the form of a gigantic snowball. While I walked I wondered why I was walking and why outside. Why the hell could I no just have stayed in the room, strolled up and down the motel corridor if I felt energetic. Better still, I could have read a book. Or even allowed myself to watch some television. Who could grumble about that; I was entitled to relax. Yet still I left the place and walked a mile in subArctic conditions. Mine was a compulsive, obsessive, addictive personality, the usual-plus I felt like a beer and thecompany of human beings; human beings, not tubes in a box or words on a page, and masturbation enters into that. In other words I was sick of myself and scunnered with my company, physically and mentally. And why was I gaun hame! I didnay even want to go hame. Yes I did.
No I didnay.
Yes I did.
No I didnay. No I ****ing didnay. It was an obligation. Bonné Skallin man it can only be an obligation. The faimly were there and one had to say hullo now and again. Posterity demands it of us. Once I am deid the descendants will be discussing departed ancestors: Who was that auld shite that lived in the States? Which one? Him that didnay come hame to visit his poor auld maw! Aw that bastard!
This is the obligation I am talking about.
But the reality was that my mother wasnay keeping too well. Let us put an end to the frivolity: if I wantit to see her again this seemed the time. I spoke to my brother on the phone. What an arsehole. Never mind, the point was taken, I had bought le billet with return scheduled a month from now and here I was. Yeh, the wind, and polar bears on the street. I like polar bears. And I like this part of the world. The auld ears, nevertheless, were being nipped at by icy spears. I settled into a catatonic march. Blocks of low-level factories and warehouses were on baith sides of the road, disused, some derelict. Maybe a cab would pass. I should have phoned one from the motel, I know that. But I didnay. Okay?
The wind whistled between buildings, rattling the roofs. Can the wind rattle the roofs? It did sound like that. This land was good land. But these capitalist ****ers and their money-grabbing politico sidekicks had turned it into a horror. I had an urge to write down my thoughts but where was my notebook? In my room at the Inn. And so what if it had been with me, in this gale it would have blown away or else my fingers would have froze and fell aff. I bought the notebook yesterday in a decent wee bookshop no too far from the bus station. It was a real surprise. But that can happen, ye enter a town in the middle of nowhere and discover some enthusiast has opened a bookshop. In this case a middle-aged couple who had grabbed their dough and skipped out of Denver or somewhere. So they opened a pure nirvana of a place. These folks were good folks. Although no doubt they were millionaires and the shop was a hobby. If their bookshop was in the vicinity and open I would have gone. I am convinced of that. But now it was evening and it surely would have been closed and how far away was I from the bus station? I had seen the day where I might have thought **** it and tried to hitch a ride but buddy, no just now.
The cheery neon sign blinking a welcome to weary travelers had nothing whatsoever to do with my decision. I saw it ahead, its fissures of light streaming upwards to the moon. Jeremiah Brown, grunted the sign-for such was my name-rest ye here oh weary one.
Sure, I replied. Show me yer fine food, yer fine beer, yer wine, yer spirits; and what about an Isla malt at an affordable price?
Walk straight ahead oh venerable one oh wise one, the gravelly voice intoned.
I was either hallucinating or a god had collared me for his ayn.
The place was huge and empty, built for stagecoachloads of customers who never arrived. There was something about it, like it had been abstracted from a 1940s movie, made for hotdogs and hamburgers and all kinds of similar fastfood sustenance. It was like it wasnay a bar at all it was really something else, a ****ing what do you call it, a restaurant.
A restaurant! It wasnay a bar at all, it was a goddam restaurant. There was a little bar right enough, set into a corner in the style of a rock and roll obsessed backwoodsman's den, Jim Bridger goes electric. You entered the den you entered the bar. There were ossified wee creatures and paintings of such; toads, squirrels, foxes and beavers, mink, a huge bear, game birds and big ****ing brown trout and carp; fishing rods and single barrel shotguns. Some interesting auld signs; one read PIKE'S PEAK OR BUST and another CALAMITY JANE'S ROCK N ROLL. Stuck alongside on the wall were 78 rpm records with sleeves, and LP and EP covers showing Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Franco Corelli and Eddie Cochrane. The bar was done in the image of a redwood tree trunk and the barstools looked like sawn-off portions of thinner trunks. Naybody here. I was about to vamoose but a guy had spotted me, poked his head out from behind a door and was across immediately. Yes sir how are you sir?
I'm fine, how's yerself in this here jungle?
Okay okay. He attempted a smile, it became a question.
I didnay bother explaining. Just a lite beer, I said, I dont care which brand, nor its state, nor yet its country of origin.
The guy attempted another smile. I rubbed my hands together. It's damn cauld tonight.
Yeh, gonna be snow later, maybe sooner.
Aye, it's in the air. Time for Santa Claus eh!
That bottle of beer later I skedaddled. To leave a bar on one such item isnay exactly typical. Maybe I had turned over a new leaf. If so naybody had telt me. Naybody never tells me ****ing nothing but so that is okay. If they did one might prepare.
I was gauny call a fare-thee-well to the bartender but he was out of sight, no doubt blethering to a lassie in the kitchen, if he was lucky enough to have a lassie in the kitchen. I worked in bars much of the time and I never had nay lassie in nay kitchen. It was just the usual sentimental ****ing shite man it came pouring out my brains. The reality is the guy in this bar was living a boring nightmare. What chance did he have? What life lay ahead? What
Right, on we go. And so did I, out the door. In the lobby I phoned a cab which is what I should have considered back in the Away Inn. Never mind. Ten minutes later I was in the backseat of an elderly Lincoln, just about my favourite jalopy, that yin with the unEuropean lines, which is what I liked about it, it was just so ****ing unEuropean. Times have changed for the better when the taxis are elderly Lincolns. Yes sir. There was a large sign pinned to the rear window.
Copyright © M & J Kelman Limited, 2004
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Meet the Author
JAMES KELMAN is the author of a number of novels and collections of short stories, including Busted Scotch; Greyhound for Breakfast; A Disaffection, awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; How Late it Was, How Late, winner of the Booker Prize; and, most recently, You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free. He lives in Glasgow.
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