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

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A novel

by Lee Cole

Groundskeeping by Lee Cole X
Groundskeeping by Lee Cole
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2022, 336 pages

    Feb 2023, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Print Excerpt

I say I'm from Paducah, I told her. It's the closest major town—­ if you can call it that. They sell these T-­shirts that say paducah, kentucky: halfway between possum trot and monkey's eyebrow. Then there's a cartoon picture of a monkey and possum, hanging by their tails from separate trees, reaching out to each other, Sistine Chapel–­style.

Wait, how is it between a monkey and a possum?

Geographically, I said. Those are the names of towns—­Possum Trot and Monkey's Eyebrow.



That's amazing.

I could think of another word.

Well, she said, you're not there anymore. She raised her beer to me. I didn't have a drink at the moment, so I fist-­bumped the Solo cup. She was closer to me than she needed to be, I thought—­close enough that I could see the faint hairs on her upper lip and feel the heat from her body and her breath. I couldn't place what it was about her that attracted me. Maybe some sense of shared understanding, real or imagined—­that we were of a kind. Maybe it didn't matter. I figured these sorts of things suffered from close scrutiny anyhow. She was a pretty girl at a party who seemed to enjoy talking with me, and with whom I wanted to be close. Better to leave it at that.

I'd probably feel differently about Virginia if I was born there, she said.

Where were you born?

She eyed me slyly for a moment, as if trying to discern whether I really cared. A country that no longer exists, she said.

Is this a riddle?

Her brows drew together almost imperceptibly. No, it's not a riddle, she said. She took a drink. There were teeth impressions on the lip of the Solo cup where she'd been chewing on it.

What happened to the country?

I hope you find the right place, she said, not seeming to have heard my question. Maybe you'll know it when you see it and you'll feel at home. Then she touched my arm and said, I'm going to the porch to smoke. It was nice meeting you.

I gave her my name and she gave me hers—­Alma, she said. Shaking her hand was like putting a letter in a mailbox, not knowing if you'd ever get a reply. You dropped the envelope and shut the metal hatch, and then you were empty-­handed. Before she walked away, she asked me what I did—­if I was a graduate student or TA or what. I told her I was a writer, but maybe my speech was slurred. She looked at me like I'd meant to say I was something else.

Someone took me home. I remember it was a pickup truck with eagles airbrushed in mid-­flight on the doors against a backdrop of rippling stars and stripes. The image was ethereal, and I stood there in the driveway looking at it for a long time, mesmerized. Someone was standing in the yard, very drunk, naming off the cities of the world that would be underwater in the next fifty years. Houston, Dhaka, Miami, Mumbai. He was counting on his fingers. Alexandria, Rio, Atlantic City, New Orleans.

The driver of the airbrushed truck materialized finally and told me to get in. I'd seen him at the party but hadn't spoken to him. Every time I'd gone to fetch a beer in the kitchen, he'd been leaning against the avocado fridge, talking about John Ashbery.

I'm gonna roll down the window in case you need to be sick, he said, and so I rode in the passenger seat with the wind drying my eyes, high beams unfurling the road ahead of us. He asked my permission to smoke and I said, Of course, as if we were old friends and I was offended he'd even asked. I'll take one too if you don't mind, I said.

This is my last one, he said. There was a long pause. We can float it though, if you want.

That's okay, I said, and though I meant that it was fine for him to smoke it alone, he went ahead and passed it to me. This guy, the driver, was wearing a PBS T-­shirt and a ratty red sock hat. Whose truck is this? I said, suddenly aware that it couldn't be his.

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.

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