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Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell

Back Roads

by Tawni O'Dell

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Hurley Altmyer is a 19-year-old who has taken on the responsibility for his three younger sisters after their mother has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for shooting their father. He is hanging on by his fingernails – working two low-paying jobs in an effort to keep their house and the family together. But he is clearly at the breaking point, totally unable to cope or even to face the truth of what has happened and is happening.

This is a dark psychological story of a family caught in a cyclone of dysfunction. It is violent and crass in places. I was caught up in Harley’s life – in his skewed view of the world, and in the downward spiral he is caught in.

I did think the book was rather unrelenting in its psychosis. Yes, O’Dell includes some scenes of tenderness, even a few of humor, but it is a powerful and dark vortex in which the Altmyer family (and the reader) is caught. Not a book for the faint of heart.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
It's got a real bad case of first book syndrome and the women are all lousy whores, with the exception of the protagonist's six year old sister. However, Harley struggles with that all important but always overlooked question, how to be a man who isn't violent and mourns dead baby bunnies. A man who has emotions other than anger. ( )
  knownever | Nov 15, 2013 |
Wonderful! Couldn't put it down! Wanted to know what Harley was figuring out about his 3 sisters, his mother and his married lover. "Written by" a 19 year old son who has taken on the responsibility of raising his 3 younger (15,10,6) sisters because their mother is in prison for murdering their father! Very illustratively written, an Oprah pick plus O'dells first novel. I highly recommend it! ( )
  camplakejewel | Oct 22, 2013 |
Much nonsense has been talked and written about this first novel by the pseudonymous Ms O'Dell. It has been, to my knowledge, passed-off as chick-lit and as soft-core erotica, and I shudder to think what else. But the fact remains that no matter what the Author's motivation -- and, being slightly acquainted with her, I am sure she had a very keen eye on Positive Cash Flow -- there are a couple of things which raise this novel way above the level of Giggling Material for suburban moms' reading clubs. Her portrayal of the anarchic sexuality of adolescents is well-considered and convincing, and her incidental revelatiuons of what is somewhat uncharitably as "redneck" culture. If you want a laugh -- and it's no rap on the Author -- find the French-language edition. ( )
  HarryMacDonald | Mar 12, 2013 |
This is one case where the book description is deceiving. I'd have to say this novel was really not at all what I had expected, given the back cover summary. But that's not to say it was a bad thing. Though this is O'Dell's debut novel, I've read two of her subsequent novels previously, "Coal Run" being my favorite thus far. I enjoy her writing style, although each novel is very different, aside from the similar geographical settings. She does, however, know how to blend serious subject matters with subtle bits of humor, which is a writing style I've come to really appreciate. This novel is dark and it has some shock value, which was not at all alluded to in the description. Some readers might find it disturbing and unsettling, and it is. But that's also what I liked about it. ( )
  indygo88 | Jan 2, 2013 |
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For my sister, Bean
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All those times me and Skip tried to kill his little brother, Donny, were just for fun.
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Book description
Harley Atlmyer, the heartbreaking and lovable hero of Tawni O'Dells' riveting debut novel, should be in college drinking Rolling Rock and chasing girls. He should be freed from his stifling coat town, with its lack of jobs and no sense of humor. Instead, he's marooned in the Pennsylvania backwoods caring for his three beloved but unruly younger sisters. He has, at best, shaky hold on the vicissitudes of day care, mac and cheese dinners, and visits to a once-devoted mother who seems not only resigned, but glad to hand ove the reinds of motherhood to her son. As he sees it, his life is "lousy with women. All ages, shapes, sizes, and levels of purity." Frustrated, overwhelmed, and utterly endearing, he's a guy in an impossible situation: an orphan with the responsibilities of an adult and the fiery, aggresive libido of a teenager. Life is further complicated when he develops an obsession with the sexy, melancholic mother of two down the road. He wants Callie Merer so badly he fears he will explode. Family secrets and the unspoken truths long held at bay collide with his obsession, unearthing a series of staggering surprises. In the face of each unexpected family revelation and through every wrenching ordeal, the unforgettable Harley instantly wins your heart doing the best he can to hold it all together. In the end, he could never know that his endearing humor, his love for his sisters, and his bumbling heroics would redeem them all. (0-670-89418-4)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0451212452, Paperback)

Oprah Book Club® Selection, March 2000: Not since S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders) has a female novelist penned such a tough and titillating portrait of lower-class, crime-ridden manhood. Set in "beautiful, ruined" western Pennsylvania, amid Eat n' Parks and Lick n' Putts, Tawni O'Dell's Back Roads follows Harley Altmyer as he walks a raging, self-conscious line between crime and innocence. Why is he being held by the authorities, and what's he so mad about? In the recent past, it's his mother, who murdered his father and went to jail for life. In the far past, it's Dad himself: an abusive, hopeless man. In the present, it's the responsibility for his three younger sisters, which makes him fantasize about smashing their faces in until they "spit up bloody macaroni and cheese."

But Harley still has a conscience--barely. He doesn't strike his sisters; he's been trying to protect them. The oldest is sassy Amber, 16, who's having sex on the living-room couch with townies who abuse her; next is frighteningly stoic 12-year-old Misty, with eyes "a glazed brown like a medicine bottle"; the youngest is adorable Jody, who at 6 pens to-do lists with items such as "PRAY FOR DADDYS SOWL." Overburdened with the practicalities of life, and the ever-mounting losses, Harley has started seeing his own words floating in the air in front of his face. "CLOSURE. TRUTH. MOST GUYS."

This first novel opens well. O'Dell does an impeccable job of making Harley both brutal and forgivable. Here, for instance, he retreats to his basement room: "I lay there until dawn, thinking about Dad, and feeling the same useless frustration I had felt the first time I had seen him piss on a sparkling white drift of pure new snow."

But that delicacy is soon lost, and Back Roads risks becoming an overabundant affair, pitched high, with a roller-coaster trajectory. Harley's anger metamorphoses into an almost bloodthirsty lust for his sexy, middle-aged neighbor, which stirs up myriad forbidden family secrets. Misty, it turns out, has been hiding something. Amber revolts. And even Jody's scribbles turn malevolent. While the writing is good throughout, the tension and plotting assume an unpleasant adolescent posture--bodice-ripping passion and mordant gloom combined. Nonetheless, O'Dell's assured and touching portrait of her protagonist emerges unscathed. You will likely remember luckless, fated Harley Altmyer long after his tsunamic tale has receded. And no matter what the judge decides, you will understand why this impoverished, angry young man was probably the most innocent one of all. --Jean Lenihan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:50 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Novel about a dysfunctional family in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town. The mother is in jail for killing the father and the four children are on their own. They are supported by the eldest, Harley Altmyer, 20, who is having an affair with the mother of a his sister's best friend.… (more)

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