A seductively written, engaging first collection organized around a family of “Bostons,” the name native Maine residents assign vacationers from the south. Cooke brings the fully rounded pleasures and character depth of a novel to her interlinked tales. No one person dominates, though most belong to a single extended family and recur from story to story; the main thematic materials are articulated obliquely, revealed as often by the gaps between pieces as by the descriptions in the stories. In “Bob Darling,” an aging man in flagging health takes a last European sojourn with a woman he met abroad. The wonderful paired “The Black Book” and “The Trouble With Money” show two women—unconventional, revolutionaries in the modern, modest, liberal sense—feeling their way through the nature of their attraction to each other while one travels to her son’s wedding as a gift to her ailing daughter. The touching title story tells of Mrs. Sargent’s relentless desire to clear her husband’s amateur paintings out of the house. The quietly heartbreaking “The Sugar Tit” shadows a woman who throughout her life has been forced to participate in and witness an array of indignities. And the richly told finale comprises another linked pair: “Girl of Their Dreams” tells of Buck Burns’s early marriage, beautifully evoking the thrill and blind passions of youthful love; “The Mourning Party,” set much later, recounts the blind, passionate, occasionally brutal grieving at Buck’s funeral.
Cooke’s attractive voice alternately thrusts bluntly and lilts poetically, keeping the reader alive to the shifts of emotional texture and mood that enrich this promising debut.