From roller rinks and record players to coin-operated condom dispensers and small-town mobsters, Till the Wheels Fall Off is a novel about an unconventional childhood among the pleasures and privations of the pre-digital era.
It’s the late 1980s, and Matthew Carnap is awake most nights, afflicted by a potent combination of insomnia and undiagnosed ADHD. Sometimes he gazes out his bedroom window into the dark; sometimes he wanders the streets of his small southern Minnesota town. But more often than not, he crosses the hall into his stepfather Russ’s roller rink to spend the sleepless hours lost in music. Russ’s record collection is as eclectic as it is extensive, and he and Matthew bond over discovering new tunes and spinning perfect skate mixes. Then Matthew’s mother divorces Russ; they move; the roller rink closes; the twenty-first century arrives. Years later, an isolated, restless Matthew moves back to his hometown. From an unusual apartment in the pressbox of the high school football stadium, he searches his memories, looking for something that might reconnect him with Russ.
With humor and empathy, Brad Zellar (House of Coates) returns with a discursive, lo-fi novel about rural Midwestern life, nostalgia, neurodiversity, masculinity, and family—with a built-in soundtrack.
“Like a more rueful, meditative High Fidelity. . . . Music, for a lonely child of late-20th-century America, becomes not merely a backdrop or soundtrack, but the thread along which one strings a life. Can a book that's languidly paced and discursive also be a joy? Yes.” —Kirkus
“Like a Gen X Larry McMurtry, Brad Zeller takes us on a tour of forgotten America and finds truth and beauty in the least likely of places. Till the Wheels Fall Off isn't a ghost story, but after reading it, it's hard to shake the feeling that you've been spending time with a spirit we forgot about long ago.” —Jason Diamond
“In the same way favorite songs transport us to different places and parts of our past, so too does this beautiful, beguiling book. I read it in gulps, as eager to hear the next album spinning in the skating rink as I was to see its players marvel at the unsolvable riddle of life. Zellar is a sorcerer and a saint, and the characters he sends careening around this novel are mystical and strange and set in my craw like another of those melodies from my youth. Which is to say, I’ll never forget this book.” —Peter Geye
“I loved Till the Wheels Fall Off! It is sure to be one of my favorites from this year. I loved all of the small-town dynamics. He captured the decline of smaller towns, but I feel like by the end it feels hopeful. The most amazing thing was how Zellar wrote about music and nostalgia. Not only the way a particular song makes you feel, but how it can connect you to a particular point in the past. How Matthew spent the first weeks back in Prentise after leaving, surveying all the ways that the town had changed, resonated with me. Russ is one of my favorite characters that I have read recently, absolutely original. I was lucky enough to talk to Brad at the Snow Days event. He talked about how much roller rinks meant to him growing up, and it shows in his writing. Till the Wheels Fall Off is a love letter to roller rinks, music, and growing up.” —Hunter Gillum, Beaverdale Books
Praise for House of Coates
“Transfixing. . . . A haunting change of pace.” —The New York Times
“An interesting, well-executed book. Ultimately, it’s less a narrative about Lester than it is a prose poem about loners and losers, the many Lesters who ‘never entirely disappear as adults, even if you still persist in not seeing them.’” —Publishers Weekly
“A poetic attempt not to fully form a life but only to capture moments of memory and objects of counterintuitive beauty. . . . The prose is crisp and thoughtful and well-matched to the photos that show the side of America to which even most Americans never give a second thought.” —Kirkus
“An enigmatic, innovative, and deadpan novel. . . . What [Zellar and Soth have] mined here falls somewhere in between W. G. Sebald’s photograph-strewn novels and Carson McCullers’s small-town freaks and loners: The result is an unaccountably strange and liberating narrative.” —Vogue
“House of Coates can only be described as a personal truth of sorts, one wrapped in artistic mystery and pierced with startling photographs . . . Zellar’s prose encapsulating Lester’s life so well, that it won't matter if he is made of flesh and blood or not, for you will feel he is undeniably real, with no need for further research.” —The Intentional
“A kind of case study of human drift.” —Star Tribune
“This collaboration between writer Brad Zellar and photographer Alec Soth . . . captures in 133 pages the essence of those who live on the edges of society.” —Pioneer Press
“A standout. . . . Exquisitely written.” —Book Riot
“The book is really as much about the place as it is about Lester . . . and both story and photos describe a connection among them that’s almost spiritual. . . . This is a truly, deeply Minnesotan story, and one well worth spending some time with.” —MNArtists.org
“You’ll be swept away by House of Coates. . . . The best picture book ever for adults?” —Donna Trump
“Brad Zellar makes intriguing and vital observations on types of character traits that defy cultural assumptions and stereotypes of masculinity. Combining vivid writing with photographs by Alec Soth, the novel becomes an enlivened testament to our complicated associations and relationships with the world and each other.” —TJ Eckleburg Review
“Gentle and unsparing in equal measure.” —Bustle
“A beautiful object, both for readers of fiction and for people who like Alec’s photography who are also interested in artists’ books.” —OZY
“A very handsome paperback edition. . . . A new afterword wraps the whole mystery of Lester beautifully.” —MinnPost
“Loneliness . . . with a seedy flavor, a weatherworn feel, both angrier and more subdued, totally frank and intimate, but also silent and empty. What’s truly amazing about this book, having just described it in such terms, is that it strikes some very familiar chord without seeming cliché or archetypal or borrowed.” —Nomadic Press