From Booker-winning Kelman (How Late It Was, How Late, 1994, etc.) comes a vividly written, if meandering, portrait of a Scottish immigrant to America on the eve of his first trip home in 12 years.
We meet Jeremiah Brown as he wanders through a snowbound American town in the West, headed vaguely in the direction of a bar. On the morrow he’ll fly home to Scotland, but for now he’s stranded and cold, on the lost end of a love he shared with Yasmin, a jazz singer and mother of his unnamed daughter. Brown finds a bar, settles in, and through spurts of paranoid theorizing about federal agents and Pentagon spies, tells us how he came to be in this place, waiting for the music to start. He recalls in scattershot fashion his wanderings from New York to Denver, San Francisco and Omaha and on to Las Vegas, his gigs as a bartender, a “Security Agent” of some kind at the Las Vegas airport, a mildly successful gambler, and a card dealer. He’s always dreamed of being a writer, but above all he’s adored Yasmin from the time of their first meeting. Yet in his melancholy recollections, she usually wanted little to do with him, resented his tagging along on her multistate singing tours, and submitted reluctantly to his lovemaking. It’s not clear whether Brown realizes how little Yasmin shared his adoration, but he’s definitely oblivious to the possibility that readers will be alienated by his coarse, sometimes bruising rhetoric, which skips nonsensically from anecdote to anecdote, tale to tale, theory to theory. Since this is not, to put it mildly, a plot-driven work, Brown’s first-person narration must be the engine that drives our interest, and that’s a problem. In addition, he’s so self-centered he offers little insight into the American immigrant experience.
Ethnic prose authentically rendered fails to congeal into a persuasive whole.