DOWN STERLING ROAD by Adrian Michael Kelly (Coach House), 218 pages, $21.95 paper. Rating: NNN
Though Down Sterling Road occasionally gives the impression that the author is still learning his craft, Adrian Michael Kelly's first novel deftly captures the rites of passage that many male readers associate with early adolescence: parasitic friendships, sexual discovery, schoolyard tensions and the continual struggle for alpha-male status.
Twelve-year-old protagonist Jacob's sullen demeanour is a lingering by-product of his guilt over his twin brother's death and his mother's subsequent departure. His father is raising him, and the two are a study in contrasts - the father's gregariousness and charming use of Scottish vernacular lend the novel much of its humour.
Constantly trying to prove his worth and win his father's acceptance, Jacob joins him in long-distance running. The sport provides Jacob with some distraction from his painful recollections as well as instilling discipline and initiative, yet it becomes apparent that he's simply compromising his own interests to appease his father.
Though his classmates are rapidly maturing, Jacob clings to certain rituals of his youth. Gradually, he comes to understand that despite his regrets, he's powerless change the past.
The use of running as a metaphor for life is well-worn, and the story has a few too many unresolved subplots, but the splashes of wit and vivid recollections of youth lend Down Sterling Road a human touch that places it a notch above others in the genre and fuels great expectations for future work by this Canadian author.