Very Cold People
‘I can’t think of a writer who is at once so formally daring and so rigorously uncompromising as Sarah Manguso’ – Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man
‘No-one’s there to watch her, so she just waits for the lights to turn on, waits to begin her performance.’
No-one is watching Ruth. She, however, watches everyone and everything, and waits, growing up on the outskirts of an affluent but threadbare New England township, on the outer edge of popularity. She doesn’t necessarily understand what she is seeing, but she records faithfully and with absolute clarity the unfurling of her awkward youth, under even more awkward parenting. As they alternately mock, ignore, undermine and discount their daughter, Ruth’s parents present now as damaged, now as inadequate, now as monstrous. All the while the Future comes towards them all, steadily, inexorably, for some of them fatally. And the fog of the Past and the abuses committed under it gathers, swirls, settles, intermittently clears.
Watching the future come, the reader of Very Cold People is immobilized, transfixed as much by the gross failures of the adults to be adults, as by the determinedly graceful arc Ruth’s trajectory makes towards an adulthood of her own making.
Magnificent . . . I hope all my fellow reader friends can find their way to this title either through their local library or independent bookseller. It is indeed special. -- Sarah Jessica Parker via Instagram Sarah Manguso is one of the most original and exciting writers working in English today. Every word feels necessary, and she's redefining genre as she goes -- Jhumpa Lahiri, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Interpreter of Maladies With its adult narrator trying to recover the intuitions of her younger self, Very Cold People reminded me of My Brilliant Friend, the first novel in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan quartet. Like Ferrante's Lila and Lenu, Ruthie is sharply attuned to a force she doesn't understand. Something is pushing through the cracks in the walls, the felted wool of her coat, but she lacks the context or language to name it . . . For Ruthie, the unseen current is some combination of class, whiteness, and the widespread sexual abuse of children. -- Katy Waldon * New Yorker * Very Cold People knocked me to my knees. So precise, so austere, so elegant, this story is devastatingly familiar to those of us who know the loneliness of growing up in a place of extreme emotional restraint. Manguso is one of my favourite writers, and this book is a revelation -- Lauren Groff, author of Florida Midwesterners, New Englanders and anyone from small town America will recognize the contours in this quietly beautiful novel about what it feels like to grow up an outsider. It's a starkly lyrical exploration of the darkness that lies underneath a lily white community with an emotional resonance that sneaks up on you and won't let go. * Good Housekeeping * I loved every sentence, thought, and gesture in this perfect novel. Sarah Manguso has painted a deeply moving portrait of the stark unreality of childhood -- Catherine Lacey, author of Pew 'My parents didn't belong in Waitsfield, but they moved there anyway.' So opens Manguso's crystalline, mordant first novel about who belongs and who doesn't in a declining Massachusetts town, as fortunes and status ebb and arrivistes displace the WASP gentry. Ruthie, the protagonist, has never felt at home in her hometown, and often wonders why; like other New England communities, Waitsfield hides its secrets well, until they erupt with a vengeance. Manguso puts her own indelible stamp on the literary terrain of John Cheever and Susan Minot, daring to brush against the third rail of class. * Oprah Daily * Stark and tremendous . . . I don't think I've ever read a more clear-eyed account of the child's matter-of-fact acceptance of adult cruelty. Very Cold People is a precise portrait of the inverted world of damage, a place where the solid objects, the chairs and tables and pencils and puddles, are all mysteriously ghosted by feeling, while the people walk around with the dead-cold solidity of objects. It's both beautiful and unsettling. I loved it and am still trying to accommodate its cold quality - like swallowing an ice-cube by accident. Manguso' steady gaze and clarity of expression is reminiscent of Louise Gluck. I hope it will do as brilliantly as it deserves. -- Laura Beatty, author of Pollard The characters in Sarah Manguso's first novel, Very Cold People, seem quite literally shaped, like ice sculptures, by their habitation of a grim town in Massachusetts . . . Though dealing with life's ugly, messy truths, her writing is compact and beautiful . . . Manguso is terribly poignant on little Ruthie's faith in a maternal love that isn't really there, and her dawning comprehension of what might have made it impossible. But in damning increments, she also shows how feminine identity in America can be built up with material objects - dolls, Girl Scout insignia, barrettes, makeup, glittering confetti (another snow-echo) - and then torn down by violation, sexual and otherwise... So masterly is Manguso at making beauty of boring old daily pain that when more dramatic plot turns arrive - suicides, teen pregnancies - they almost seem superfluous, visitations from an after-school special. The book is strong enough as a compendium of the insults of a deprived childhood: a thousand cuts exquisitely observed and survived. The effect is cumulative, and this novel bordering on a novella punches above its weight -- Alexandra Jacobs * New York Times * A haunted masterpiece, written with the precision of a miniaturist and the vulnerability of true heartache. I wept more than once; I recognized myself more than once. Very Cold People proves yet again that Manguso is one of the greats -- Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Less Unpicking the seamy side of a world sewn together by the everyday abuse of women and girls, Manguso reworks the stories women have been told about themselves into narratives that can be recognised, worked with. Very Cold People is an important stitch in a tapestry being urgently reworked by women writers. Manguso's is a bold stitch, a beautiful and a vital one. -- Joanna Walsh, author of Break.up A poignant and unnerving masterwork about growing up in a dominator society, told with the concision, carefulness, and sense of mystery that we've come to expect from Sarah Manguso -- Tao Lin, author of Leave Society It's impossible to read Manguso's novel without wondering how much of the writer's own life is in it. After all, her pithy and profound nonfiction (including 300 Arguments and Ongoingness) deals with time and mortality, among other topics, and she grew up in the same state. But to look for her between the lines misses the point in a book that gets at larger truths about countless girls caught in the cycle of generational trauma . . . Manguso's attention to the chilliness and reservation of certain New Englanders crackles like a room-temperature beverage poured over ice . . . What elevates Very Cold People above a traditional coming-of-age novel is Manguso's insistence on not being fooled by exterior markings - historical houses with plaques on them, people with icy demeanors . . . Manguso portrays the fears surrounding girlhood with a blistering clarity. -- Michele Filgate * Washington Post * Chilling . . . Set in the 1980s in a small, frigid New England town, this coming-of-age story offers a stark take on what it is to feel poor, poorly nurtured, and inadequately loved in a class-conscious, lily-white town whose antique houses were built and occupied by generations of Cabots and Emersons . . . absorbs our attention and stirs empathy and reflection. * NPR * Unafraid to engage with tricky topics like race and class in America, Very Cold People may not warm your heart, necessarily. But it will pick you up after it knocks you down, and leave you stronger for it. * Chicago Review of Books * The first novel by acclaimed poet and critic Sarah Manguso is a bracing coming-of-age story and master class in controlled style. The unnamed narrator recalls growing up in Massachusetts on poverty's edge. Her father is snappish and distant; her mother's quick to judge and deeply narcissistic. As the story moves into the narrator's teen years, the damage to her self-esteem begins to show . . . Manguso is a lovely writer about unlovely things . . . here she depicts her protagonist's quiet agony with a poet's eye . . . A taut, blisteringly smart novel, both measured and rageful. * Kirkus, (starred review) *
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