cover image Very Cold People

Very Cold People

Sarah Manguso. Hogarth, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-0-593-24122-6

A solemn yet deeply empathic bildungsroman, Manguso’s debut novel (after the essay collection 300 Arguments) centers on a girl whose life unravels in a fictional Massachusetts town. The only child of a European Jewish mother and an Italian father, Ruth has spent her entire youth in Waitsfield, a place defined by its colonial histories and class differences. She shares stories of her personal and ancestral history in abbreviated accounts, delving into how the traumas of poverty pervaded every aspect of her and her family’s life, as well as how the abuse that Ruth and her friends continuously suffered at the hands of their parents, teachers, and caretakers impinged on their ability to imagine a life outside of Waitsfield. The vignettes don’t have a lot of momentum, but as a whole they render a sweeping view of a girl’s troubled coming-of-age with a solemnity that both wonders at and highlights the heartbreakingly persistent hope that lies at the core of Ruth’s life story. Manguso’s complex work will inspire reflection. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Feb.)