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Where the North Sea Touches Alabama

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.

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

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Folklore and Mythology

History: American History

Sociology: Social History, Urban and Rural Sociology


“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.”

Jonathan Fullmer | Booklist

“A gripping story, a memoir of sorts, a retrospective critique of an artist’s work, a requiem with no choral amen, a ghost story, an unnerving mystery sans solution, a chronicle of ‘the not quite dead’ and, along with all this, a sociological treatise. Shelton is a genuine craftsman. His prose glows like glass pulled from the furnace. This reader couldn’t watch from a safe, inflammable distance. By the end, Shelton became my significant other. Experience, knowledge, labored thought and honesty—what a generous gift he offers the humble reader.”

Daryl White | Paste Magazine

“A powerful, deeply original, and deftly constructed combination of fiction, readings of the work and lives of everyone from Walter Benjamin to Franza Kafka, and contemplations of artist Patrik Keim’s departure from this world and the violent, beautiful artwork he left in the hands of the book’s narrator. The universe of Where the North Sea Touches Alabama is an uncanny iteration of our own.”

Woody Brown | Artvoice

“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 | Stalks, Diesel Books

“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.”

Luis Jaramillo | Tweed's

“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.”

Kathleen C. Stewart, author of Ordinary Affects

“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.”

Donna Haraway, author of A Cyborg Manifesto

“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.”

Howard S. Becker, author of Art Worlds

“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.”

Padgett Powell, author of You & Me and The Interrogative Mood

Table of Contents

List of Images



Where the North Sea Touches Alabama



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