- Rides of the Midway (2001)
by Nathan Huddleston (SHS)
Lee Durkee, who dreamed of being a sled dog after reading Call of the Wild, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on October 19, 1961. His father, Peter, was working at the University of Hawaii at the time, and his mother was working for the navy (Durkee 1). At the age of four, Durkee moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where his father served as dean of students and later as vice president of student affairs at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). Durkee says he was “a pretty wild kid;” and after graduating high school, he attended Pearl River Junior College (Durkee 2). After attending Pearl River, Durkee went to the University of Southern Mississippi and dropped out twice. Finally, he went to the University of Arkansas and enrolled in creative writing classes (Durkee 3). Since the age of eleven years, when he first read Call of the Wild, Durkee had known that his dream was to be a writer (Durkee 1). After his wife of three years divorced him and moved to Vermont, he finally began making his dream come true. Durkee moved to Vermont to be closer to his nine year old son, and while working nights as a bartender, began writing his first novel, Rides of the Midway. After five years, the book was completed, and he signed on with publisher W.W. Norton & Company. Minding Vermont’s cold winters, he travels often, especially to Asia (Durkee 1). Currently, Durkee lives in Colchester, Vermont, where he is working on a compilation of short stories, as well as another novel titled Knife Fights With Ghosts (Durkee 2). Durkee was a featured author at the 2001 Eudora Welty Symposium held every year at MUW.
Durkee’s favorite authors include John Cheever, Cormac McCarthy, Kate Chopin, Flannery O’Conner, and “about a million others at least” (Durkee 2). He advises those hoping to become writers to “do it for hours every day” if they hope to succeed (Durkee 1).
A Review of Rides of the Midway
by Nathan Huddleston (SHS)
Rides of the Midway, Lee Durkee’s debut novel is a wonderfully written tale of the darker side of life in a small Mississippi town in the 1970’s. The story takes the reader along on the journey of the road of life with the protagonist, Noel Weatherspoon, as he experiences nearly every temptation life has to offer. The story begins in the hospital room of a young boy injured in a Little League baseball game. While attempting an in-the-park home run, Noel collided with this boy, the opposing catcher, breaking his collarbone and forcing him into a coma. After this incident Noel’s life slowly slips out of his hands. He begins experimenting with mind altering drugs, alcohol, pornography, and uses a watermelon for personal pleasure. Because of the injury Noel inflicted on his opponent, he is unable to sleep nights, and the insomnia reaches a horrible high point when Noel resorts to breaking into the hospital and killing the comatose boy to keep his spirit from haunting Noel at night.
When Noel reaches high school and begins dating, his life becomes even more of a disaster. He begins drinking more heavily, doing more of the old drugs, and adding new drugs to his list. His obsession with pornography becomes even stronger, as he realizes his new dream to become an erotic photographer. He takes his camera along on dates, convincing his girlfriends to pose nude for him. He then buys equipment and sets up a makeshift darkroom in his bedroom closet. Noel’s girlfriend, Layle, runs away from home to move to California. When Noel graduates high school, he enrolls at Pearl River, a small junior college in Poplarville. He is the one student in his dorm who does not like the school’s one famous alumni, Jimmy Buffett, and makes sure everyone knows so. He keeps doing and selling drugs, drinking even heavier than before, and collecting pornographic pictures. While
at PRC, Noel begins an affair with a professor. One weekend, he and a friend drive out into the woods to use LSD. They then spray paint satanic symbols on the freshly painted water tower. However, the evening does not go exactly as planned.
While Rides of the Midway does contain a great deal of drug and alcohol use, voyeurism, and sexual experiences, it is very well written in a style belonging only to Durkee. During a fit of anger, Noel is so upset, his world seems to blur. The reader practically experiences the rage with him, due to Durkee’s unique blending of the words. To make it run together as Noel’s world is doing, Durkee uses no punctuation in places. For example, he writes, “He continued walking backward for one full block, past houses mailboxes trash cans neighbors dogs telephone poles… staring forward backward, walking backward forward.” While I cannot honestly give my recommendation for the novel to those offended by sex, drugs, alcohol, or other things of this nature, if you are not easily offended and enjoy reading unique writing styles, I would definitely recommend this book.
by Nathan Huddleston, SHS
My name is Nathan Huddleston, and I am with Starkville High School’s MS Writers and Musicians web project. I am currently reading Rides of the Midway and will soon post a review of it on the site, but also I was assigned to write a biography or you. So far I love the book. However, at his point, I need to go ahead and ask a few questions about your life.
1) What are your parents’ names and occupations?
Peter and Jean Durkee, my dad was dean of students at the University of Southern Mississippi and my mom was a housewife who used to work for the navy. They met in Hawaii, where I was born.
2) When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer? Did any particular event inspire that decision?
Right after reading Call of the Wild at about age 11. I liked that book so much I wanted to be a sled dog for awhile.
3) What is your marital status, and do you have any children?
I’m divorced and have a nine year old son.
4) When and where were you born?
October 19, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii.
5) Do you have any siblings?
I have a sister named Tina, who lives in Texas now.
6) How long did Rides of the Midway take you to write?
It took me about five years. I bar tended nights and wrote days.
7) What would you recommend for students hoping to be a writer someday?
Get a thick skin and look at writing like it’s a musical instrument you’re learning to master. You have to do it for hours every day to be any good.
8) Are there any books you are currently working on?
Yeah, I got a novel called Knife Fights With Ghosts I’ve started, and I’m finishing a book of short stories.
(Note: this proposed title has been changed but no definite title is yet available)
9) What made you decide to move to Vermont?
I live here to be close to my son. Otherwise, I’d be in a much much much warmer climate.
10) Have any offers been made to make your novel into a movie?
Nah, not so far.
11) What is the hardest part of writing a novel?
Showing it to people after years of isolated work. It’s tough to steel yourself and show it around.
12) Do you have any other hobbies?
I like to travel a lot, specifically to Asia, which is where I tend to go each winter when it gets surreally cold in Vermont.
13) Have your relatives been supportive of your decision to write as a career?
They have, though it is a strange and taxing thing having a writer, and a very odd writer, in the family. I can sympathize.
Second E-Mail Interview with Lee Durkey (May 17, 2001)
by Nathan Huddleston (SHS)
So far, I’m loving the book. It’s different from anything I’ve read before. I can’t even think of another author to compare it to. It keeps the pages turning for me…Anyway, here are a few more questions for you.
1) If you could be any tree, what kind of tree wou… No, I’m just kidding. Who is your favorite author?
Is a list okay? John Cheever, Cormac McCarthy, Kate Chopin, Flannery O’Connor . . . and about a million others at least. If I was a tree, I’d be an old spooky water cypress.
2) If you were to make a switch to another writing style, what kind would you choose?
Another style? Well, I’m not sure this is what you mean, but after writing a book in third person, I’m really enjoying writing in first person for a change. It’s a very different type of writing, first person is, kinda just listening to the voices in your head. Sometimes it’s like dictating.
3) Is Rides of the Midway at all based on true occurrences?
There’s some basic bones real stuff in it, but it’s all heavily embellished. (Lynyrd) Skynyrd did crash near my hometown and me and a friend did hang out waiting for the helicopter, but it was not like in the book. I guess I was a pretty wild kid and a lot of that did go into the book, but I wasn’t as wild or as messed up as Noel obviously, or I’d probably be dead. I went to PRC in real life but no, no affair with a teacher, that was all made up.
Also, if you have any other biographical information or interesting facts you would like included, feel free to write any of that down for me as well. I know it must be pretty annoying having some random high school kid from Nowhere, Mississippi, writing to you, but thanks for the patience and the help.
Third E-mail Interview with Lee Durkee (May 18, 2001)
by Nathan Huddleston (SHS)
Nathan, You never told me where you were from in Mississippi. By the way, how did you ever find my book in the first place? They don’t actually have it at the school library, I’m guessing.
I’m from Starkville. My teacher somehow magically made your book appear. I’m in the last chapter right now, and I’ve loved it. I like your writing style (i.e. the way when Noel found out about the teacher’s husband knew about them he left the house real angry, and it runs together all the things, he sees. It makes it seem like he’s so pissed off it’s all a blur.)…I love writing anything. I thought the research and trying to locate you was fun. The way I found you was by happening upon your father’s obituary, seeing the town in Vermont you were from, and going from there. After ALL that work, it got me nowhere, and Memphis bookstore finally gave me the email address…
Okay, to the questions at hand–
1) Where did you attend high school?
Hattiesburg High School. And it sucked.
2) What was your major in college?
I went to junior college, to Pearl River, which is no longer a junior college, but it used to be. I remember one time looking out my dorm window and seeing a cow wander through campus. I was a forestry major. Later, I went to USM but dropped out of there twice. I was bar tending and had more important things on my mind. Finally, I ended up at the University of Arkansas, which was a godsend because they had this great creative writing program.
3) Did you make good grades in school?
No. I made average grades. Then at college some worse-than-average. Finally though, I started wanting to learn. It kind of hits you, some later than others, this urge to learn.
4) How long were you married before the divorce?
Just three years.
- Death: Peter Durkee, USM Vice President Emeritus. University of Southern Mississippi. Nov. 11, 1996. http://www.pr.usm.edu/prnews/durkee.htm.
- Durkee, Lee. E-mail interview #1. May 17, 2001.
- Durkee, Lee. E-mail interview #2. May 18, 2001.
- Durkee, Lee. E-mail interview #3. May 21, 2001.
- Durkee, Lee. Rides of the Midway. New York City, NY. W.W. Norton & Company. 2001.