Excerpt from Groundskeeping by Lee Cole, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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


A novel

by Lee Cole

Groundskeeping by Lee Cole X
Groundskeeping by Lee Cole
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2022, 336 pages

    Feb 2023, 336 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


I've always had the same ­predicament. When I'm home, in Kentucky, all I want is to leave. When I'm away, I'm homesick for a place that never was.

This is what I told Alma the night we met.

A grad student had thrown a party, and we'd both gone. I don't know how long we'd been talking or how the conversation started, but I'd seen her watching me. That's why I went over. She was watching me like I might try to steal something from her.

What does that mean, a place that never was? she said.

All around us, people were talking in groups of twos and threes. It was a house way out in the country, decorated in the way you'd expect of a grad student—­someone with an overdeveloped sense of irony and curation, who also happened to be broke. Foreign film posters. A lamp made from antlers with a buckskin shade. Those chili pepper Christmas lights. We were standing in the pink glow of a Wurlitzer jukebox. In her right hand, she held a Solo cup and an unlit cigarette. Her long denim skirt was of the kind I associated with Pentecostals. On the other side of the Wurlitzer stood a life-­sized cardboard cutout of Walt Whitman—­the one where he's got his hat cocked and his fist on his hip. I kept catching sight of him in my periphery and thinking it was another person standing there, eavesdropping.

I don't know what I'm talking about, I said. I'm a little drunk.

I can tell, she said. She took a sip of her drink and slipped her bra strap back onto her shoulder. She looked around for a moment, sort of bobbing her head to the music, which was not coming from the jukebox, but from some other mysterious source. People were dancing in an attention-­seeking way. She let her eyes pass over them briefly, then she turned back to me and shook her hair. It was all tangled and cut short in a kind of bob. The sort of dark hair that seemed red in a certain light—­the light from the Wurlitzer, for instance.

I hail from Virginia myself, she said, putting on a phony accent.

Do you ever feel a sense of suffocation when you think about it? Like, you start to hyperventilate and sweat, and next thing you know, you're completely overcome with this fear that if you go home, you'll be trapped there and never be able to leave?

The question seemed to amuse her. No, she said.

Yeah, me neither, I said.

She laughed at this. I grew up in DC basically, she said. So, not the real Virginia. This is my first time in Kentucky.

Just visiting?

Something like that. It's not what I expected.

Did you expect all of us to play banjos and tie our pants with rope?

She laughed again. No, she said, I just thought it'd be—­I don't know. She gnawed on her lip and looked up at the ceiling, searching for the right word.


That isn't the way I'd put it.

You go to the right places, you'll find that. Where I grew up is like that.

And where is that?

I grew up in Melber, I said, but it's not much more than a stop sign and a post office.

And it's . . . under-­resourced?

A flicker of memory: every Halloween of my childhood, a round bale of hay was soaked in kerosene, lit on fire, and rolled downhill on Melber's main thoroughfare. People lined the street to watch as the bale jounced and tumbled, embers floating upward, bits of smoldering straw scattered in the road. I thought about this spectacle, and how no one ever explained to me why it was done, or for what purpose beyond entertainment and half-­baked tradition. I remembered my dad's heavy hands on my shoulders and the heat from the flames on my cheeks, how you could see the glimmer reflected in everyone's eyes. And so, yes, in a town without a movie theater or a mall, where burning a bale of hay counted as entertainment, I thought it was safe to say that Melber was under-­resourced.

Excerpted from Groundskeeping by Lee Cole. Copyright © 2022. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Writing Residencies

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Where Coyotes Howl
    Where Coyotes Howl
    by Sandra Dallas
    Where Coyotes Howl may appear to be a classically conventional historical novel — a wide-eyed ...
  • Book Jacket: After the Miracle
    After the Miracle
    by Max Wallace
    Many people have heard one particular story about Helen Keller—how the saintly teacher, Annie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Wife
    The Lost Wife
    by Susanna Moore
    The Lost Wife is a hard-hitting novella based in part on a white settler named Sarah Wakefield's ...
  • Book Jacket
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Nazi Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
Currently a New York Times bestseller: The true story of a Nazi plot to kill FDR, Stalin, and Churchill during WWII.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.