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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My older brother's.

I took a drag and passed the cigarette back to him. It's nice, I said, for some reason. I didn't really have an opinion about the truck.

The woods opened out onto a big pasture, rows of mown hay in a wash of moonlight. A clapboard house stood against the tree line, with a gambrel barn beside it, and in the lighted window of the house, I saw a man and woman embracing. They seemed to be standing in a kitchen. There were plates on the table. Maybe they'd just eaten, though it was very late. Regardless, they were having a moment. They didn't know I could see them, passing by, as I was, in the dark.

I met a girl, I said.

I saw that, he said, amused. That's the visiting writer, you know. She got the big fellowship.

We had a vibe, I said, though I wasn't sure if I even believed this.

No, you didn't.

I'm telling you, man.

She's with someone, I think. Now, where am I taking you?

Home, I said.

Where's home?

Home was a cracker box house on the south edge of Louisville with kudzu branching along the walls and an elaborate, jury-­rigged tangle of antennae on the roof. It was my grandfather's house, and I lived there with him and my uncle Cort in a basement room. I'd been there since returning from Colorado a few weeks earlier, where I'd worked for a year with the city forestry division of Aurora. I'd been laid off from the forestry job, failed to make rent, and slept in my car for two months. Having no place else to go, and not wanting to live with either of my divorced parents in western Kentucky, I moved into my grandfather's house, where I could stay rent-­free till I "got back on my feet." I got a job as a groundskeeper for Ashby College, a small private school of some renown in the foothills an hour from the city. Anybody that worked for the college could attend exactly one class for free, and my motive in accepting the job was that I could take a writing workshop. This is what led me to the grad student's party in the country. It was a welcome party, for all the new and returning students. I was supposed to start work on Monday, and my first class was Monday evening. It was Saturday then—­or early Sunday morning, technically. I'd have to take an Uber back and retrieve Pop's truck sometime in the morning.

So are you TAing? the driver wanted to know.

No, I said. He had the heated seat on. I was slouched down, feeling very sleepy and comfortable in its warmth.

He cracked the window, flicked out the cigarette filter. You don't get a stipend, then? he said.

I'm just taking classes.


I nodded.

I TAed for the first time last semester, he said, shaking his head wearily. Creative nonfiction. I had these grand ideas that I'd teach them about selfhood and identity and the personal essay as a process of self-­disclosure and all that. But I had to spend most classes explaining the difference between past and present tense. They switch between the two willy-­nilly. And all they want to write about is dead grandparents. It's the only tragedy any of them have encountered. I swear to God, if I read one more dying grandfather story, I'm gonna blow my brains out.

We slung around a curve, headlights panning the trees, and when the road straightened, a creature appeared in the middle, straddling the dashed line—­a large bird. He stomped the brake. The car shook violently as the antilock mechanism kicked in. We came to a halt a few feet from it, and in the bluish light of the halogen beams, I saw that it was a peacock—­iridescent and stately, oil-­sheen feathers trailing like a bridal train. The bird looked at us with small red eyes.

Holy shit, the driver said.

For a long time, the bird stared, undaunted.

Maybe it escaped, he said.

Escaped from what?

He didn't answer. Finally, the peacock waddled to the other side, twitching its plumes, pecking casually at insects on the ground. We drove on and did not speak the rest of the way, apart from my perfunctory Thanks for the ride. He merely nodded, all the color blanched from his face. He looked like he'd seen his doppelgänger in a dream and now knew his death was imminent. Maybe I looked the same. My heart was still thumping as I pelted up the gravel drive to Pop's house.

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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