Where the North Sea Touches Alabama

Big House

Allen C. Shelton

384 pages | 18 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2013

On a warm summer’s night in Athens, Georgia, Patrik Keim stuck a pistol into his mouth and pulled the trigger. Keim was an artist, and the room in which he died was an assemblage of the tools of his particular trade: the floor and table were covered with images, while a pair of large scissors, glue, electrical tape, and some dentures shared space with a pile of old medical journals, butcher knives, and various other small objects. Keim had cleared a space on the floor, and the wall directly behind him was bare. His body completed the tableau.  Art and artists often end in tragedy and obscurity, but Keim’s story doesn’t end with his death.A few years later, 180 miles away from Keim’s grave, a bulldozer operator uncovered a pine coffin in an old beaver swamp down the road from Allen C. Shelton’s farm. He quickly reburied it, but Shelton, a friend of Keim’s who had a suitcase of his unfinished projects, became convinced that his friend wasn’t dead and fixed in the ground, but moving between this world and the next in a traveling coffin in search of his incomplete work.

In Where the North Sea Touches Alabama, Shelton ushers us into realms of fantasy, revelation, and reflection, paced with a slow unfurling of magical correspondences. Though he is trained as a sociologist, this is a genre-crossing work of literature, a two-sided ethnography: one from the world of the living and the other from the world of the dead.  What follows isn’t a ghost story but an exciting and extraordinary kind of narrative. The psycho-sociological landscape that Shelton constructs for his reader is as evocative of Kafka, Bataille, and Benjamin as it is of Weber, Foucault, and Marx. Where the North Sea Touches Alabama is a work of sociological fictocriticism that explores not only the author’s relationship to the artist but his physical, historical, and social relationship to northeastern Alabama, in rare style.
Jonathan Fullmer | Booklist
“Dense, wildly digressive, and divided into topical microchapters that cite more than 100 endnotes sometimes only loosely connected to the text, Shelton’s singular blend of art-, lit-, and pop-infused intellectualism may not draw a wide readership, but those who enter will find an invigorating analysis of death, art, friendship, and self-discovery.”
Luis Jaramillo | The Coffin Factory
“The sometimes abrupt shifts in subject matter make this a book that has to be read slowly to take in Shelton’s arguments. Fortunately this close reading is rewarded, especially in the moments when Shelton moves from more analytical passages to personal reflections, synthesizing the theories he’s discussing. . . . What makes this book so strangely wonderful is how Shelton moves from the abstract to the personal.”
Kathleen C. Stewart, author of Ordinary Affects
“This is a beautiful and brilliant book. . . . The lives of Allen Shelton, Patrik Keim, Walter Benjamin, and many others intersect in these pages, rubbing up against each other, drawing on each other to evoke layers on layers of worlds in which objects, color, and texture are everything. Shelton’s writing is masterful.”
Donna Haraway, author of A Cyborg Manifesto
“Allen C. Shelton is really special. From the layering and subtlety of his writing to his sense of geography, intimacy, and sensuous detail, I don’t know anyone who writes quite like him. These interwoven narratives of the dead and the living form a boundary-crossing work of worlding, a productive new type of critical engagement; Where the North Sea Touches Alabama is not just a remarkable book, but a fresh genre of writing.”
Howard S. Becker, author of Art Worlds
“Allen C. Shelton is a provocative writer whose prose grapples with a lot of ideas we don’t usually allow ourselves to think about. Readers will have to think hard, but their efforts will pay off in new knowledge and insight: I felt that I knew a whole lot more after reading his book than I did before and I don’t often feel that way, nor feel that way so strongly.”
Padgett Powell, author of You & Me and The Interrogative Mood
“Reading this book and thinking it fiction I came, reluctantly, to see that it is not. The import of that sentiment eludes me as I continue to read this settling, unsettling book.”

University of Chicago Press

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