IDIOT WIND by Peter Kaldheim


A Memoir
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A drug addict loses everything and then hits the road to find himself.

This engaging memoir borrows its title from Bob Dylan and its road map from Jack Kerouac. Kaldheim, fearing for his life after a Manhattan drug scam went awry, boarded a bus to get as far away as he could afford (Richmond, Virginia), with nothing but regrets to accompany him. He had once been a seminarian and was working his way up the ladder in the publishing industry, and he had been married twice. He’d gotten reckless and careless in his downward spiral, but the one thing he had apparently never squandered was his literary aspiration. So, from the start of his journey, he began taking notes, hoping “that the uncertain road ahead would provide me with the Kerouacian adventures I’d been longing to experience ever since I first read On the Road as a high-school sophomore. Who knows? I thought. There might even be a book in it.” Almost three decades later, this is that book, drawing from some 50 pages of notes Kaldheim had taken on his trip from coast to coast. He mainly hitchhiked and hopped freights, learning the ins and outs of homeless shelters and their free meals, picking up a few bucks here and there at a “Stab Lab” where he sold blood. Early on, a waitress struggling with addiction complimented him as “a good listener,” and what he has assembled here are the stories from others he met within the “brotherhood of the road,” the cautionary tales from those who would gave him a ride or some other necessity. He discovered generosity on a level he had never expected from those who didn’t have much to give, and he also found a wellspring of empathy within himself, “a heart willing to reconnect with the world, if only I had the sense to let it.”

Despite the familiar story arc, Kaldheim’s voice is fresh and honest, and the redemption and grace feel real.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-78689-736-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Canongate
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2019


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