cover image Sorry to Disrupt the Peace

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace

Patty Yumi Cottrell. McSweeney’s, $24 (288p) ISBN 978-1-944211-30-1

In Cottrell’s stellar debut novel, 32-year-old Helen is in her Manhattan apartment when she receives a call that her adoptive brother has killed himself. Helen, who like her brother is Korean and was adopted by the same white Milwaukee couple, is shaken by the news and books a one-way ticket to Milwaukee to find out what happened. But what starts as a detective’s hunt for clues soon becomes Helen’s confrontation of her own place in the world—why she’s estranged from her past (she hasn’t seen her adoptive parents in five years), and what she is doing with her life as a counselor for troubled youth. Finally, Helen comes to terms with her adoptive brother’s suicide. The real attraction here is Helen: her perspective ranges from sharp (New York is “a city so rich it funds poetry”) to askew (“People who call themselves photographers are fake... the real charlatans of our time. Behind a photo is a perfectly fake person, scrubbed of all flaws, dead inside”) to unhinged (her adoptive parents’ grieving takes the physical form of a middle-aged European man who walks around the house and helps himself to pizza). Cottrell gives Helen the impossible task of understanding what would drive another person to suicide, and the result is complex and mysterious, yet, in the end, deeply human and empathetic. Agent: Kate Johnson, Wolf Literary. (Mar.)