Brad's Reviews > You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free

You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free by James Kelman
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Jul 08, 09

bookshelves: scottish-lit, unfinished
Read in July, 2009

James Kelman will never again write anything approaching the quality of his Booker Prize winning How late it was how late.

It's not because he isn't a fine writer. It's because How late it was how late is one of those fierce, ineluctable, raging works of art that most artists (but not all) can only produce once in a career. It's the writer's heroin hit, and he spends the rest of his career chasing that dragon of established greatness, which only the truly great can catch again.

So far Kelman doesn't appear to be one of those authors.

You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free uses the same stream of consciousness technique as its superior predecessor, but Jeremiah, the narrator, can't compare to Sammy. His problems are as shallow as the American landscape he passes through, and while this was partially Kelman's intention, it is difficult to feel sympathy for Jerry.

Sammy was tragic. A drunken-Smurf of a man caught up in a Greek tragedy. Oedipus with liver disease. His plight, regardless of his character flaws, made him and his story compelling.

Jerry is boring, and his mundanity slows the pace of reading to the speed of a gastropods contractile sequence. I wanted to like You Have to Be Careful in the Land of the Free, even love it, and it wasn't terrible, but because of my memory of How late it was how late I couldn't finish.

I knew I should feel some guilt, but there are other books I need to read. I hope Kelman catches that dragon one more time and becomes one of the greats, though. What a treat that book will be to read.
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message 1: by David (last edited Jul 09, 2009 07:11PM) (new)

David Katzman Nicely put. How late it was, how late was outstanding. Top shelf.


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