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Novel set in GLASGOW and USA

17th November 2022

Dashboard Elvis is Dead by David F Ross, novel set in Glasgow and USA.


Set in Glasgow, New York, San Francisco (Texas, Phoenix AZ)

Novel set in GLASGOW and USA

As the book itself says, “Simultaneously beautiful and impossibly sad”.

Dashboard Elvis is Dead is a highly entertaining read. Verging on metafiction, it features a cameo appearance by the author, David F Ross, who not only writes the story but also meets his own characters as part of the plot. Ross includes a fair scattering of real people in his dramatis personae; he includes scenes that might or might not be fictional, and in one instance he replaces a real politician with his own invented character. In order to get the most from it, I feel I really need to begin all over and read the book again.

Due to my own Scottish heritage, I was gripped from the start, as much of the dialogue in the opening pages written in broad Glaswegian dialect. As a result, the characters fairly jump off the page, seeming welcoming, threatening, hilarious and repellent by turns. Those readers who are unfamiliar with “Weegie” might be daunted but it’s well worth persevering.

The action skips around a bit between 1983 and the present. Using a strict chronology, the life of the main protagonist, Jude Montgomery, is propelled in a new direction by a mass shooting at her high school in Texas. She sets out to travel across America to San Francisco. En route, she and her travelling companions encounter a Scottish band, the Hyptones, who are hoping to make a name for themselves in the States with their song “All I need is an Independent State of Mind”. This fleeting encounter shows Jude that life can be “joyous, exciting, dangerous, magnificently unpredictable”, and it gives her a new energy and positivity. She benefits from several fortunate turns in the road, figuratively, and begins a career as a photographer. She narrates her own sections of the book: it turns out this is actually her first draft of an autobiography.

The other main focus of the book is the Hyptones’ guitarist, Jamie Hewitt, whose story is mostly told by the author. Jamie’s outlook on life is as bleak as his – and Jude’s – background. He is pessimistic about the band’s prospects before they even leave Scotland. Their involvement with the 1980s drug scene ­– reminiscent of Trainspotting (as the author himself points out) – creates a chaotic and doomed atmosphere.

The book opens with Jude in Glasgow in 2014, thirty years after her encounter with the Hyptones, and at the time of the Scottish vote on independence. She is searching for the band members, in particular Jamie and Anna Mason, the only one she has had contact with in the intervening period. She tips a busker wearing broken Elvis-style glasses with a £20 note after taking his photo while he sings the Hyptones only hit. The book circles round to this point again near the end and concludes with the author’s speculation and guilt about what happened to the characters and whether any of it is his fault.

David Ross has constructed an engrossing and enjoyable story, with engaging characters and a fair sprinkling of humour to leaven the darker and grittier descriptions of deadbeat life in the key locations: New York and Glasgow. Although the author claims not to do much research, he depicts the locations in the book skilfully. He is also masterful in the way he creates tension. In addition, I relished many of the more philosophical aspects of the book, especially his discussion regarding how we interpret fiction versus fact, and the role of photography. All in all: one to recommend and re-read.

Sue for the TripFiction Team

Catch the author on Twitter @dfr10

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