Excerpt from The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Coldest Night

A Novel of Love and War

By Robert Olmstead

The Coldest Night
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Apr 2012,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2013,
    320 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

The Captain asked Clemmie if she was ever in the city for he could not recall a time when she was.

"Yes," she said. "One time."

They were stopped to let the horses blow. All about was the sound of a hollow wind running the land, but it was not the wind. It was the sound of the thaw, as what grew on the earth and clutched to the rock gave up the cold in an aching perceptible gasp.

"No," Clemmie said, reconsidering. "I guess I never was. I guess I just took that I was."

Her horse scuffed at the cobbled trail. Though noon, it was now dark again as if early in the morning and would be light for all but another few hours of the day as the cut where they stood was so deep and precipitous.

"Wherever you are, you will always think of me," the Captain said to Henry, his voice seeming to break with regret.

The trail became a road rutted with threadlike rivulets and late that day they came to the swollen Twelve Mile. They would have to make a dangerous crossing on a rickety footbridge and the Captain seemed to hesitate, but then he did not. Fog enveloped their path and Clemmie commented on how strange it was, the cold and wet about her legs and ankles, while her upper body was warming to the light.

The Captain held the reins of the coal black horses as they unlashed their bundles and shouldered them. First Clemmie and then Henry embraced the old man and then they turned and made their crossing over the swaying bridge that would soon be washed away with the melt.

"Don't look down," she said, as if it were something she'd heard and now was telling him. When they reached the other side, Henry looked back. The Captain was still there, astride a coal black horse, the other two in hand. He raised his other hand, stretching forward his arm. Henry made the slightest of gestures, a nod in the Captain's direction, and the Captain stood in his stirrups, his old body arched in fierce salute.

They went to live in the city and Clemmie took a job working at the veterans' hospital where they got their cast-off towels and bedding and soap. She also saved for Henry the newspapers and magazines and books that were left behind.

It was near impossible to imagine not being in the mountains, but in the city the earth became the land at Henry's feet. To the west he could see what lay between himself and the horizon and it was without hollow, valley, defile, ravine, or stony turret. The mountains were never far away, but the site of the city was like something made by an originator, the mountains seemingly split open and pushed back by hand and then coved and held in place. He'd never walked so far in a straight flat line and felt turned out and naked.

Clemmie fell from a station in life she'd not known she occupied. Never before did they have to pay for water, heat, and a roof. They had a small house with a sun-filled kitchen and the hospital had a cafeteria where they often took their meals. On Saturday mornings Henry would go to the library with his mother. They'd walk through the back streets where clothes were hung on the lines to dry. The clothes wore a yellow hue from the burning of coal and they'd go to the library so he might pore over maps, atlases, and books of natural history, as if assuaging the privations of childhood. Then in the afternoon they'd purchase Italian ice sodas, almond, orange, or banana with shaved ice in tall, cloudy glasses. In the evenings Clemmie went to school and in time she became a nurse.

Sometimes they had visitors, relatives he'd never met before who'd been shunned by the Captain for having given themselves over to the life of the wage earner in the coal mines.

These relatives now lived in the city, or passed through, returning whenever they could. Uncle Golden came through when he was flush with money, and Aunt Adelita stayed with them for a time after her husband and two sons died in the Bartley No. 1 shaft mine. Ninety-one men and boys died that day, killed by explosion and fire, and his mother told him Aunt Adelita had been one of God's wandering souls ever since.

From The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead. © 2012 by Robert Olmstead. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hyde
    by Daniel Levine
    In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story ends ...
  • Book Jacket: Shotgun Lovesongs
    Shotgun Lovesongs
    by Nickolas Butler
    Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, follows five life-long friends, now in their mid-...
  • Book Jacket: Gemini
    by Carol Cassella
    How good is Gemini, Carol Cassella's book about a Seattle intensive care physician who becomes ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  254Cartwheel:
    Jennifer duBois
  2.  170The Weight of Blood:
    Laura McHugh

All Discussions

Who Said...

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.