Back Roads (novel)

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Back Roads
TwaniODell BackRoads.jpg
Author Tawni O'Dell
Country United States
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Viking Press/Allen Lane
Publication date
December 1999
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 338 pp (hardback edition)
ISBN 0-670-88760-9 (hardback edition) & ISBN 0-451-20234-1 (paperback edition)
OCLC 40891038
813/.54 21
LC Class PS3565.D428 B33 2000
Preceded by None, Back Roads was Tawni's first published novel.
Followed by Coal Run (June 2004), Sister Mine (March 2007)

Back Roads is the 1999 novel by the American writer Tawni O'Dell, and was chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection in March 2000.

Plot introduction[edit]

Harley Altmyer, a nineteen-year-old, has to care for his three sisters as his mother is in jail for killing his abusive father. Living in the coal town of Laurel Falls in backwoods Western Pennsylvania, he lusts after a mother of two who lives down the lane.

Plot summary[edit]

Harley Altmyer should be in college drinking beer and chasing girls. He should be freed from his stifling coal town with its lack of jobs and no sense of humor. Instead he's marooned in the Pennsylvania backwoods caring for his three younger sisters after the shooting death of his physically abusive father and the arrest of his mother. His existence has become a joyless, exhausting blur of day care, mac and cheese dinners, working two minimum wage jobs, and monthly prison visits to a "once-devoted mother" who seems not only resigned but glad to have handed over the reins of parent and homemaker to her young son. As he sees it, his life is "lousy with women. All ages, shapes, sizes and levels of purity." Frustrated, overwhelmed, plagued by violent fantasies and trapped by feelings of love and duty, he's a guy in an impossible situation: an orphaned child with the responsibilities of an adult and the fiery, aggressive libido of a teenager.

Life is further complicated when he develops an obsession with the sexy, melancholic mother of two down the road. Family secrets and unspoken truths threaten to consume him as his obsession deepens and she responds unearthing a series of staggering surprises. In the face of each unexpected revelation and through every wrenching ordeal, Harley does the best he can to hold it all together. Violent and disturbing yet touching and darkly funny, Harley's story is ultimately a search for his own self-worth as he slowly comes to realize that survival is a talent.

Film adaptation[edit]

In 2011, it was announced that a film adaptation of the book would be directed by Adrian Lyne.[1]


  1. ^ Hubschman, Daniel (February 10, 2011). "Adrian Lyne returns to film with 'Back Roads'". Retrieved October 18, 2013. 

External links[edit]