By Lee Durkee

WW Norton and Company

316 pages

No reason to mince words here: With this eruptive debut novel, Lee Durkee, a Mississippian who has tended bar in Vermont for the past 15 years, has just kicked in the door of Southern literature.  Or maybe that splintered door belongs to American lit. . . . Durkee writes with the verve of a young Philip Roth or Thomas McGuane . . . but even more than these, Durkee calls to mind the early Barry Hannah—rattling his lingual sabers, jitterbugging on the edge of absurdity, lobbing lit firecrackers at the startled audience.  Rides of the Midway is a manic, sloshed, whiney, fizzy, horny, noisome and wondrous novel . . . Baudelairean . . . coarsely graceful . . . as vital and involuntary, that is, as the truest art.   –Jonathan Miles

The New York Times Book Review

Deft and funny . . . Durkee balances humor with emotion through a tone that is detached without being patronizing and an always convincing use of detail . . . Comic though it is, Rides of the Midway engages serious concerns . . . Durkee has given the coming-of-age novel enough twists to make his version seem something else entirely—a ghost story, perhaps, mixed with a sexual comedy and slice–of-working-class Southern life. . . Much of the book’s strength, of course, derives simply from the likableness of its hero . . . Chucking religion to the wind (literally, as he flings stolen hymnals from the car window) he lights out like Huck Finn, losing himself “in the pureness of acceleration.”

This is a suitably dark and exhilarating ending for a novel that has pretty much sustained that combination from the start.  – Matthew Flamm

Time Magazine

Mississippi-raised author Lee Durkee portrays his hero’s feckless dissolution with considerable comic flair and a sharp eye for regional manners, good and bad . . . readers will finish the book feeling they’ve been treated to quite a ride.  –Paul Gray

The New Yorker

In this tender and hallucinatory first novel, episodes with the local police, high-school girls, and an abusive stepfather pass like dreams as Noel alternatives between the comforting numbness of drugs and the terrifying clarity of his visions.

Los Angeles Time Book Review

 Horrifically comic . . . a weird haunted aura—of deaths near and far—prevails in Lee Durkee’s exceptional first novel which tells of Noel’s turbulent teen years in Mississippi during the late 70’s and early 80’s.  You’ve got to love a coming-of-age story in which Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crash plays a pivotal role, but as masterly as this sequence is—Noel and his girlfriend wait at the landing pad for their rock heroes’ bodies to be flown in via helicopter and then go grab a late-night screening of “The Exorcist” at the local drive-in—Durkee isn’t a Gen-X kitsch hound.  Such period touches only serve to deepen the pervading sense of remoteness and loss in Noel’s experience . . . a vivid personification of that classic adolescent territory between responsibility and freedom, which, in this impressive debut, can often look like a prison.   –Mark Rozzo

Philadelphia Weekly

Bracing . . . Boy, does this make The Sixth Sense seem like Dick and Jane.  Rides of the Midway is the stunning, startling tale of Noel Weatherspoon . . . the most engaging literary antihero since Holden Caulfield . . . From first electrifying page to last, Noel Weatherspoon lives in a surreality from which you may be loathe to emerge.  This is dark poetry, dementia with a smile, and unbelievably good storytelling. 


A coming of age story about one of the oddest, most complex boy-to-man characters in recent memory . . . There’s nary a tendril of Spanish moss nor a patch of kudzu in Durkee’s mercifully unsentimental (and quite funny) debut novel . . . A gripping, hallucinatory, and very grave first novel.   –Adrienne Miller

Publisher’s Weekly

Sharp and engaging . . . all the characters are remarkably realized, their quirks and mannerisms so true that it’s especially heartbreaking when tragedy strikes, as it inevitably must.  Durkee’s darkly humorous debut sorrowfully and sincerely portrays a boy’s self-damnation.  In the tradition of Anne Tyler, this promising first-timer has taken great care to resurrect smalltown living in the 70’s and 80’s without a hint of sentimentality.

Kirkus Review (starred review)

Durkee combines the haunting lyricism of his prologue . . . with blatantly crude comedy that will have readers laughing out loud despite themselves.  First-timer Durkee writes with a southern accent that doesn’t smother a unique voice, and his roller-coaster ride of a story leaves a reader breathless and waiting for more

Spin Magazine

In Rides of the Midway, Lee Durkee chronicles one young man’s hilariously knotty adolescence in mid-to late- 70’s Mississippi . . . Durkee creates a deeply specific, stifling southern town.  It’s one where Billy Graham is on every television set, each passing thought is a possible sin, and the local underachiever dedicated to drugs and arena rock just may have more going on behind those mirrored sunglasses than you think.  –Julie Ann Pietrangelo

Time Out New York

Durkee handles Noel’s odyssey with grace and style, crafting sentences so beautiful that you stop to read them twice . . . Rides of the Midway, Lee Durkee’s assured, richly imagined debut novel, is a raucous tour through this scorched landscape of faith  –John Freeman

The Commercial Appeal

This mongrel flavor gives the books its deeply unpredictable personality, as if it might bite at you with no provocation.  But these qualities are also what make the book so beautifully exciting . . . scarily real . . . vivid, unforgettable . . . Durkee has a tremendous gift for dialogue, and ably captures the rhythms and cadences of Southern speech.  His characters talk naturally and casually, their words dancing around their buried motivations and emotions . . . What Durkee has created in this remarkable debut is a lively, loving ode to Southern adolescence, its crude confusions, and its strange freedoms.   –-Stephen Deusner

Maxim Magazine

Lee Durkee throws a rowdy, eerie party with his first book, but it’s definitely worth attending.  We’re still feeling the hangover.  –Candy Ellison

Paper Magazine

Durkee’s eye for metaphor and ear for dialogue pull together Noel’s world, which seems to hurtle toward apocalypse while hardly moving.  –Allison Xantha Miller

Seven Days

This is one of those books that resonate in the mind long after the last page has been turned . . . Rides of the Midway is a headlong, apocalyptic, picaresque tale, as gut-wrenching and addictive as the Black Dragon, the fairground ride on which Noel last saw his father, and which gives the book its title.  It is tragic, funny and, in the end, even optimistic. Noel is an unlikely hero, but his story of love, death, brotherhood, and hope rings true.  –Pip Vaughan-Hughes

Winston-Salem Journal

Tthis is not your father’s coming-of-age tale . . . a wild, unforgettable ride . . . wickedly disturbing . . .. undeniably funny . . Durkee is not a timid first time novelist.  He paints with bold strokes, not afraid the reader will question his audacity to offer us such extreme characters and situations.  Like the title Rides of the Midway will have you howling, laughing, screaming and holding on tight.  It’s a scary ride—but one you’ll be tempted to jump back in line for as soon as you finish.   –Barbara Bennett

Clarion Ledger

Jackson, Mississippi

The Rides in Durkee’s Midway are frightening, hilarious, dark, realistic, sensitive and enlightening. Once you leave the gates of this 316 page “Great Mississippi Fair,” you’ll feel dazed, retrospective and just a bit giddy.  His is a formidable talent producing a truly memorable cast in a past not far from home.  –JC Patterson


A tour de force . . . Rides of the Midway is filled with thrills and chills as it rockets towards it amazing and strangely graceful conclusion, in which we are reminded that only “the truly wretched” can really sing “Amazing Grace.”   –Susan Larson

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Like that octopus-style ride on the midway, Durkee’s debut novel spins one way, then another, in a crazy tangle of lies, laughs, drugs, pornography and violence.  Noel is a long-haired drug dealer who wraps mystery around him like an old Army blanket  . . . “Rides of the Midway” offers an appealing ‘70’s hero who remains strangely innocent despite his drug-abusing, hell-raising ways.  –Hal Jacobs


Lee Durkee’s Rides of the Midway  . . . renders both the pubescent boy and his creepy, nouveau Southern Gothic milieu in loving and ferocious detail . . . Unlike a typical first novel, which gestures toward nothing larger than itself, Durkee’s dark bildungsroman reaches for the universal.  In its grim, haunted, and often outrageously funny specificity, it becomes almost allegorical—a Pilgrim’s Progress through the valley of the shadow of the late twentieth century.”  –Darcy Cosper

The Charlotte Observer

Durkee’s writing is inventive, sure-footed, brimming with droll wit and sometimes surreal images.  Occasionally you stumble upon one that stops you in your tracks: the drive-in theater catching fire during a showing of “The Exorcist,” for example.  —Polly Paddock

Boulder Weekly

The plot is a gorgeous, crooked braid of subplots—part murder mystery, part ghost story, part homage to the messy, unwilling vision quest otherwise known as adolescence.  First-time novelist Durkee does what the best writers do—he pulls no punches, giving equal, honest time to the sweet and the wicked, diving (for instance) right into the perversion and beauty of frustrated pubescent sexuality . . . All the while, the novel holds a core of innocence and furious hopefulness.  Noel is a twisted, sympathetic figure, an anti-hero that calls up the disgruntled youth in all of us.  –Amy H. Taylor


 . . . Rides is a dark, funny, and uniquely southern examination of the adolescent rites of the 1970’s . . . Rides is filled with the familiar elements of classic southern literature, and Durkee’s Hattiesburg of the ‘70’s doesn’t seem that far off from Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County . . . The juxtaposition of the deep south locale and the changing mores of the ‘70’s brought on by sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll provides plenty of grist for an engaging and memorable read.  Like a mix of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Basketball Diaries.  –John Sewell

South China Morning News

 . . . a helter-skelter journey . . . Interwoven in a complex plot are hints of demonic powers and unexplained phenomena . . . Durkee has produced a stunning novel that has a kind of demonic energy . . . what he reveals is not pretty but it is extremely funny and provocative . . . a joy.  –Paul McGuire

Austin American-Statesman

. . . His [Durkee’s] gift is in conjuring the ghosts and shadows, bringing them to a convincing kind of life.