Cook returns to the protagonist of his collection of linked stories, Last Call (2004), to examine how a teenaged girl grows up too quickly.
Laura Tate is 15 when her older sister elopes to Mexico and her mother boards a Greyhound bus out of their tiny West Texas town, never looking back. The year is 1960, and as the only girl left in the household, Laura becomes the default housewife and mother to her three brothers. A year passes and, already distanced from her high-school classmates and yearning for something more, Laura jumps at an unexpected New Year’s Eve kiss from a married man, John Letig. A sexual relationship ensues, and Cook follows Laura as she struggles through the often violent emotional oscillations of an affair. His narrative lens captures it all: Laura’s curiosity at John’s early tender ministrations; anger and shame when she painfully loses her virginity; paranoia that her family will discover her secret; surprise at how ardent her sexual desire becomes; and guilt when she interacts with her lover’s wife and children. And, as Laura grows more attached to John and committed to their relationship, she finds that she, like her mother and sister, must decide whether to abandon her family. The story builds to a satisfying climax, and the affair’s conclusion is both surprising and definitive. But what is most impressive is Cook’s fair and probing treatment of the couple’s ever-evolving power dynamics. The only blemishes are the sporadic flashback sequences involving the long-departed Mrs. Tate: They add nothing and detract from the compelling plot.
A strong, complex story from a promising new literary voice.