Where the North Sea Touches Alabama (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

Allen C. Shelton's bizarre book, Where the North Sea Touches Alabama, came out this past fall with very little fanfare, but has over the winter and spring knocked the socks off many a reader. A sociologist by trade, Shelton is a true writer of Southern Gothic at heart, who successfully
divines a Southern imaginary that exists now only in memories forgotten
into ghosts. No summary would do justice to his mesmerizingly baroque weaving of biography and cultural analysis. It simply must be experienced . . . in repeated readings. If you are anything like me, this book will linger with you for a while, not unlike the ghosts that clearly haunt Shelton.

— Brad

This bizarre, wonderful book is perhaps too easily overlooked because it is so difficult to pin down. The back-page blurb is accurate, but also doesn't quite do it justice. Is it about a passionate, suicidal artist you almost certainly have never heard of? Yes...yes, it is -- but only in the sense that a haunted house is exclusively about the ghosts inhabiting it. What if the ghosts are incidental visitors and the true story is the house that invites them? This is how I read Where the North Sea Touches Alabama. Shelton may be a sociologist by trade, but he is a writer of Southern Gothic at heart, and here he successfully taps into a Southern imagination that exists only in memories turned ghosts (or vice versa). His book is a mesmerizing weaving of biography and cultural analysis, and it bears patience and attention without being "difficult" in the sense you might expect from a book published by an academic press. If you open your doors to the ghosts he has conjured, they will linger a while. -- Brad Johnson

— From June 2014


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.

About the Author

Allen C. Shelton is an associate professor of sociology at SUNYBuffalo State and the author of "Dreamworlds of Alabama." He lives in Buffalo, New York, next to Billy Sunday s first church and an old Italian grocery store, and within a half-mile of an abandoned nineteenth-century asylum. There are no pine trees."
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226073224
ISBN-10: 022607322X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: October 25th, 2013
Pages: 272
Language: English