Jack Coey

Jack Coey was raised by The Shakers on Mount Lebanon, and when he realized celibacy wasn't for him, he ran away to Manhattan to become an actor. When he didn't get that part, he thought, "Hey, I know the alphabet," and became a writer.

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"Spare, evocative tales of alienation in the acting life."

Kirkus Reviews


Pub Date:
Page count: 104pp

Ten short stories, some interconnected, about actors at professional and personal crossroads.

Coey (August 13, 2011, etc.), now based in New Hampshire, pursued an acting career earlier in life but shifted to writing. In this collection, he brings autumnal and apparently autobiographical shading to a series of elegiac tales featuring Northeast-based actors at various turning points in their careers. In “The Rehearsal,” a besotted young actor awaits the actress he desires in an empty theater, then runs lines with a mysterious woman who stumbles into the audition space. In “All That,” a boy on the road with his boozing thespian father gets a taste of the seedier side of life onstage and off. A former actor, helping out at an ill-attended New Hampshire funeral, learns of the downward spiral of a one-time Oscar nominee in “Fagan.” In a four-story sequence, New York City waiter and aspiring actor McGee prepares for a spot at Princeton University’s McCarter Theatre, toys with being a writer, and pursues Mona, a fickle actress playing an insect in an out-of-town stage production. Through his various male leads, and with an economy of detail, Coey effectively conveys a disillusion that’s reminiscent of Nathanael West’s novels about Hollywood. The McGee stories are the most compelling, which may make readers wish that the collection had focused even more on them, and that experiments such as “Out of Work,” featuring pronouns as characters, were discarded. There’s also a certain retro-noir quality to this collection, particularly in its depiction of women, who largely serve as sirens to bewitch and bother the male protagonists (“He thought she was cold and calculating which was unattractive, but her face was with him always”). The two remaining stories, “Places” and “The Understudy,” are somewhat repetitive in theme, with the latter bringing the collection to a rather abrupt close.

Spare, evocative tales of alienation in the acting life.

Pub Date:
Page count: 198pp
Coey’s (Exit Stage Left, 2012, etc.) historical fiction involves murder in a small New Hampshire community during World War I and the possible connection to an act of espionage by an alleged German sympathizer.
Drawing on the 1918 murder of Dr. William Dean of East Jaffrey, New Hampshire, Coey fictionalizes events and proposes a solution to the crime, which has remained unsolved. Coey’s tale revolves around the attempts of two agents working for the Department of Justice to determine whether reports of mysterious lights coming from Mount Monadnock are the work of German agents signaling German submarines off Boston Harbor. Suspicion points to Lawrence Colfelt, a tenant on Dean’s farm who is believed by the locals to be a German sympathizer. After an altercation with Colfelt, Dean indicates to authorities that he has information regarding the investigation into the mysterious signals. Before authorities can speak to him, however, Dean is found murdered in the cistern on his farm. Justice Department agents Brendan Shaughnessey, a working class Bostonian with a drinking problem, and Nathaniel Nash, an academic attorney and family man, find themselves in a morass of ineptitude and conspiracy when it emerges that Colfelt has an alibi and a prominent local Freemason begins to look like the most likely culprit. With some eagerly pointing the finger at Dean’s frail, senile wife, tensions flare between Protestants and Catholics as a Masonic coverup is suspected. Highlights include the flamboyant Dr. DeKerlor, a European experimental psychologist and psychic who relishes the spotlight. Also compelling is the relationship that flourishes between Shaughnessey and a local widow. While the case is intriguing, Coey relies too heavily on official documents and newspaper articles. Wholesale adherence to historical material stifles the story; only toward the end of the novel, once Coey undertakes his hypothetical solution, do his characters begin to breathe.
An interesting case that’s too thinly fictionalized.