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Reviews of Groundskeeping by Lee Cole

Groundskeeping

A novel

by Lee Cole

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

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2022, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Feb 2023, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

An indelible love story about two very different people navigating the entanglements of class and identity and coming of age in an America coming apart at the seams - this is "an extraordinary debut about the ties that bind families together and tear them apart across generations" (Ann Patchett, best-selling author of The Dutch House).

In the run-up to the 2016 election, Owen Callahan, an aspiring writer, moves back to Kentucky to live with his Trump-supporting uncle and grandfather. Eager to clean up his act after wasting time and potential in his early twenties, he takes a job as a groundskeeper at a small local college, in exchange for which he is permitted to take a writing course.

Here he meets Alma Hazdic, a writer in residence who seems to have everything that Owen lacks—a prestigious position, an Ivy League education, success as a writer. They begin a secret relationship, and as they grow closer, Alma—who comes from a liberal family of Bosnian immigrants—struggles to understand Owen's fraught relationship with family and home.

Exquisitely written; expertly crafted; dazzling in its precision, restraint, and depth of feeling, Groundskeeping is a novel of haunting power and grace from a prodigiously gifted young writer.

Excerpt
Groundskeeping

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Groundskeeping has so much going for it: three-dimensional characters, vivid scenes ripe for the Netflix treatment, timely themes of class and political divisions, and touching relationships, including a romance you'll care about. The title connotes standing one's ground, but also cultivating home and identity. Should you stay where you grew up, or try to make a life as an exile?..continued

Full Review (729 words)

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(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post
Groundskeeping is very fine work indeed from an exciting new voice ... Given a novel so satisfyingly rich in themes and details, a review can only touch briefly on some of its many virtues

Booklist (starred review)
With brilliant descriptions of the rural South, Cole's slow burn of a debut novel achingly explores the definition of home, fate, and our shared humanity.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Cole's novel is more than a love story or a coming-of-age tale. Written with superb attention to detail and subtle emotional complexities, the book also offers a lovingly nuanced look at America—its longtime residents and recent immigrants; its ramshackle rural beauty, urban revival, and suburban safety; and its generous opportunities for reinvention. In the end, it is a love letter to home...Perceptive and endearing, this novel signals the arrival of a talented new voice in fiction.

Publishers Weekly
A] nimble debut...this is the strongest story about young writers in love since Andrew Martin's Early Work.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House
An extraordinary debut about the ties that bind families together and tear them apart across generations—this is a fierce, tender, and wholly unforgettable work from a hugely gifted writer.

Author Blurb Colm Tóibín, author of Brooklyn
Scrupulously perceptive...Groundskeeping is filled with close observation, detailed shading. It is an absorbing love story, but it is also an examination of class in America, and it captures with sharp insight a moment in recent history.

Author Blurb Maggie Shipstead, author of Great Circle
A coming-of-age story inextricably bound with a love story, Groundskeeping gets at the hard work of finding your place in the world, the burden and exhilaration of fighting for who you might be...It's frankly preposterous this is a debut novel when Lee Cole's writing has such ease and authority and his storytelling rings so true.

Reader Reviews

JJameson

Can love overcome class ?
This book was a "slow burn"- I loved the complexity of the voice. Owen is a struggling, aspiring writer but "stuck" in poverty. He takes a groundskeeping job at a fictional college in Kentucky where was born. He meets Alma, a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Writing Residencies

Building and grounds at Yaddo artists' community in Saratoga Springs, New York In Lee Cole's Groundskeeping, the protagonist is offered a fellowship to take up the (fictional) Harry Crews Cottage writing residency in Florida, and his love interest is the writer-in-residence on their shared college campus in Kentucky. Writing residencies vary greatly in terms of what they entail. Some can be like a free working vacation, while some include duties such as teaching. Some involve monetary investment on the writer's part — and, if you're lucky, scholarship money to help. Travel may come with additional expenses to think about.

Some of the most prestigious residencies, like Yaddo, MacDowell and Millay Arts, are free (minus a small application fee or nonrefundable deposit), and thus are highly competitive. In ...

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