Alumnus returns

Book Review: Down Sterling Road, by Adrian Michael Kelly

Canadian writer and Queen’s alumnus Adrian Michael Kelly launched his first novel, Down Sterling Road, this month, to rave reviews from critics across Canada. Kelly, who grew up in Campbellford but now hails from Timmins, Ont., completed his MA in English at Queen’s in 2001, where he contributed to The Queen’s Quarterly. He moved to Alberta and pursued journalism, writing for the Calgary Herald and Alberta Views before writing his novel, which he started during a writing workshop in Calgary.

Down Sterling Road follows the story of eleven-year-old Jacob McKnight, a boy growing up in the 1970s in Glanisberg, a pleasantly average small town in Ontario. In a recent interview with Coach House Books, Kelly commented that “Down Sterling Road is at its core a father-son story,” with implicit echoes of Shakespeare’s Hamlet—a connection that is seemingly unavoidable in tales of the relationship between a son and his father. Jacob is haunted by his father, a man who continually pushes him to run competitively, to be a doctor, to be something more than his old man ever could. Jacob gives in to his father’s aggressive hopes, but his own desires lie elsewhere. He creates comic book characters in an attempt to escape the lower-class reality of his life.

Jacob is then forced to leave his own childhood behind to play dad to his adolescent-minded father after his twin brother, Cailan, dies tragically and his mother abandons the family.

Jacob is joined by his friends, Cracker, a pseudo ghetto-punk and Cracker’s sniveling brother Bobby an insecure bully called Mean Dean, and a mysterious artist, Alvy. Jacob experiences the pains and hurdles of growing up while maintaining a dignity and tenderness that draws the reader further into his life. He carries on practicing for the marathon his father so desperately wants him to complete, despite the fact that every hill he climbs brings back burning memories of his brother’s death and the destruction of his parents’ marriage. Jacob’s father, John, assumes the role of the antagonist early in the book, but redeems himself as an unlikely hero and manages to grow up in the process. Down Sterling Road engages the reader in its tale of childhood, of growing up too quickly and of reconciliation with a painful past. Jacob is highly complex boy whose dreams push him harder than his father ever could. In format, Kelly does not settle for a normal dialogue and narrative description, but produces a novel of poetic prose, expressing complex feelings and relationships in the simple language of a small town boy. Coach House Books released Down Sterling Road on Sept. 26 and Kelly has already traveled to Toronto, London, Waterloo, Peterborough and his hometown of Campbellford to launch the novel in each city. He will go on to appear in Guelph on Oct. 23 at The Bookshelf, in Ottawa on the 27th with a reading at Collected Works, and in Montreal on the 30th at the Mile End Cultural Centre.

Book Launch

Who: Howard Akler and Adrian Michael Kelly

What: The newly published authors will be reading from their novels,
The City Man and Down Sterling Road respectively.

When: Tuesday, Oct. 25 at 1 p.m.

Where: Watson Hall Rm. 517

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