Keith's book recalls the cross-country travels he made through much of his childhood with his itinerant, alcoholic father. The Next Better Place focuses on one journey in particular, a 1959 odyssey in which the pair head from Albany, NY - where Keith lived with his mother, who was divorced from his father, and two sisters - to California, and eventually back east again.
Penniless, the two are forced to hitchhike much of the way, scrounging for work, food and shelter. Yet Keith forges a complicated bond with his father that transcends the hardships and unusual events that mark their on-the-road life.
The Next Better Place has drawn praise from the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, New York Times, USA Today, Newsday, Kirkus Reviews and Entertainment Weekly, among others.
For Keith, who has authored more than 15 academic books on broadcasting, writing The Next Better Place was as much a journey as the one he describes.
"I was always felt, even back before I was an adult, that this was a story worth telling," said Keith in a recent interview. "But it went through several incarnations - a short story, a screenplay, a novel - before I felt I got it right.
"The difficulty wasn't so much in the writing but in my mindset. I had to sort out the emotions I felt about my father and the experiences we went through. Over time, I began to see the humor, the silliness, the adventure in the whole thing."
By writing the book, Keith says, he was thus able to form for himself a more complete picture of his father, who died in 1982.
"It was cathartic, and it heightened my understanding of him, and his life. I came to realize that he was in many ways a victim, rather than someone to be purely reviled. He had some positive, kind qualities; he was not abusive, just irresponsible."
Reflecting on the favorable response The Next Better Place has received, Keith says that part of the book's appeal may be nostalgia. "The era in which it takes place, mid-20th century America, certainly seems familiar, even endearing, to many readers. But from the comments I've seen and heard, people seem to regard the book as candid rather than sentimental, which is how I intended it to be.
"What I find interesting is that some people will tell me they find the book to be quite humorous, while others have a different reaction: They tend to feel protective of the boy - me - and say, 'Oh, it really tugged at my heart.'
"I guess that if you inspire those contrasting emotions, you've done a pretty good job."
Return to March 13 menu
to Chronicle home page