Lee Cole knows how to write. This is a great story, but the writing is amazing. The story captures two very different people in a relationship that feels doomed to fail. One born and raised in Kentucky and the other a Bosnian immigrant. The backdrop is a Kentucky college where students, including the two in the relationship the story focuses on, have liberal views in a sea of Republicans. In addition to a heartfelt story, this book helped break the liberal-conservative divide by showing the goodness in people regardless of their political leanings.
Thank you NetGalley for an ARC.
I don't know how else to say this, but I really liked GROUNDSKEEPING because it was almost a gender-swap version of an archetype of a book I love: a young woman coming of age on a college campus, falling in love for the first time and discovering what one wants in a career. But this book, with a male character as the protagonist, offered a different perspective and seeing the stereotype of a guy a woman maybe can't trust, who maybe doesn't want to get involved with because they come from a rough background or have done questionable things in the past, was refreshing and relatable.
The relationship between Owen and Alma (set yes, once again, during the leap to the 2016 election) is realistic and often frustrating. There isn't too much in the way of a groundbreaking plot, but I enjoyed the characterization and the love story (though, spoiler alert, the ending leaves a mystery regarding what the future holds for them). It's a classic campus novel and it felt perfect for a Fall read. It doesn't say much, but it's definitely a vibe and the writing is solid for a debut.
I saw another reviewer call this book "meandering," and that's the most apt word for it, in my opinion. I did really enjoy the premise and the characters, but the writing style could've been a little tighter for me.
Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the advanced copy!
Unfortunately, this was not for me. I was unable to get past the first few chapters. I believe this is just an issue of my taste not aligning with the story. I recommend others try it!
I loved the main character of Lee Cole's novel "Groundskeeping--I found his voice very compelling. His sense of being adrift while also feeling stuck seemed very relatable and universal, even when his circumstances were very specific to him, and his conflict between wanting to get out o Kentucky but also being protective of it was pretty compelling. I also enjoyed the discussions of the region and of its portrayal in literature. But wow, did I hate the main character's love interest. I perhaps understood why he initially liked her, but her personality was so terrible that by the end of the book I was mainly reading for the moment when they broke up, which did not come nearly fast enough as far as I was concerned. Still, there's much to enjoy in this novel and I look forward to seeing what Lee Cole does next.
Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review.
Well-written and interesting, but the lack of quotations left it a bit hard for me to follow the narrative. I liked this book, but I didn't love it.
Groundskeeping was a very interesting debut that explores a lot of topics that will resonate with readers. I thought it was interesting how the author centered the story on a young man who seems to feel stuck in his life, but then meets a talented young writer who helps to spark his own creativity. The timing of the story takes place right before the 2016 election, so the political landscape plays a large role in the story.
While parts of this story were interesting and kept me engaged, others seemed to fall flat and made me lose interest a bit. I thought the writing was well done, but did struggle with the way the author showed dialogue. I know others really loved this book, so definitely encourage readers to pick this up and share their thoughts!
Not a bad novel, just not one that held me captive throughout. Owen Callahan is an aspiring writing who moves back to Kentucky to live with his uncle and grandfather - this is not an ideal situation for him to say the least. He is hoping this is the help he will need to help get his career off the ground.
Owen felt entitled to me, and while he seemed to be somewhat aware of this he doesn't really change. I wasn't overly impressed with the character development with all characters and felt the writing was a little forced at times. And when Alma enters the picture I wondered what she would see in Owen to begin with.
This is not an awful book, just not something I was jumping up and down and eager to recommend.
I struggled with this one, despite the topic being something that I can very much relate to (I'm a "coastal elite progressive" but have southern, religious family who voted for Trump). I understood by the end of the book that the narrator was unreliable, and that we shouldn't take his word as the objective truth, but wow was it hard for me to make it past his thoughts during the book. He just couldn't see beyond his blinders. Alma, his Bosnian immigrant love interest, isn't perfect either, and did have some judgement towards his rural working class background, but I found it hard to get invested when I just strongly disliked the narrator. I have friends who loved this one so I'm glad that I finally read it, but it just didn't quite work for me.
I do admire the fairly nuanced representation of the tension between upper middle class immigrants and rural working class white Americas, I think that was the most effective part of the book for me. I will consider reading more from Cole, but hopefully with a more sympathetic narrator.
Groundskeeping is a coming of age novel following Owen as he tries to determine what course to follow in his life when things aren't going as planned. Interesting and well-written characters and a good snapshot of the year 2016.
In this somewhat underwhelming novel, a young white man, kind of lacking in personality or redeeming qualities, starts a relationship with a young, Muslim woman. The woman is a well-to-do author from a loving family who graduated from an Ivy-league college she attended on full scholarship. She is now teaching on a fellowship at the college where the young man is a groundskeeper who is doing manual labor at the school in order to take free writing courses there.
The young man, Owen, graduated from the University of Kentucky but then got caught up in drug use that derailed him and left him homeless. He is now living with his Trump-supporter grandpa and brain-injured uncle in Kentucky, where he is trying to take himself seriously as a writer. The young woman, Alma, has no sense of her own privilege, but neither does the young white man, which makes both of them not very likeable, which made it hard for me to feel deeply invested in what became of them. Also the story has no dramatic events in it; it merely tells the story of their meeting and coming together and struggling to understand themselves and their families, so there is little real drama to retain reader interest. If anything, I finished it to see if the young man ever came to understand himself better, but I don't know that he ever did-- though he did take a step that showed he had learned to take himself more seriously as a writer.
Why, given my lukewarm reaction, am I giving this book four stars? I can see that the writing is excellent, and its portrayal of the marginalized Trump supporters in Owen's family was moving. There is no stereotyping of Kentuckyians here, only a shame held by Owen for being from Kentucky. The hateful, brain-injured uncle asking, "Do you think I wanted to live this life?" is heartbreaking. The gentle, bewildered, stoic grandfather is equally so. Alma's Croatian family, who has so eagerly embraced the American dream, shows us another side of out American tapestry as it is being torn apart. For this reason, this novel is worth reading.
Thanks to Netgalley and Knopf Doubleday publishers for gifting me an advance copy ebook.
This was a well written and interesting novel. I enjoyed the pacing, the plotting and the characters, although some were less than likeable. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley!
This book was a five-star read for me and one of my favorites thus far for 2022. I loved the relationships between the protagonists during the fraught time after the 2016 election. Cole perfectly articulated how decisive that time was for some families. The ending is something I'm still thinking about. I can't wait to read more of what Lee Cole writes.
I generally enjoyed Groundskeeping, and was especially impressed when I learned that it's a debut novel; it has a compelling narrative style that drew me in, even when the plot was a bit meandering. While I had hoped the characters would develop more fully as I read, I also wondered whether their aimlessness, and that of the book as a whole, was part of Cole's plan—the feeling of malaise, of being stuck waiting and never feeling fulfilled, is perfectly personified in the first line of the book: "I've always had the same predicament. When I'm home in Kentucky, all I want is to leave. When I'm away, I'm homesick for a place that never was."
I liked this book although I did not love it. It definitely felt like a male author. The Kentucky scene was interesting as were the dynamics of the characters. I felt mildly sympathetic for Owen, the main character and Alma his girlfriend. I also liked James. Really none of the other characters were compelling although the description of the family dynamics was decent.
Literary fiction with rich depictions of Kentucky. Good but dragged a bit I found. Enjoyed the character development.
I’m struggling with reviewing this book. There were parts of the book I thought were well done- the sense of place in rural Kentucky ( although Louisville being depicted as rural is definitely questionable), Owen’s confusion and ambivalence. In the end , I found Owen and Alma both pretty unlikeable and not very sympathetic and the entire pacing very slow. I was repeatedly reminded of Hillbilly Eligy and how that book was supposed to explain the rise of DT- but both books represented those voters as two- dimensional stereotypes. 3 stars
I really enjoyed this novel. I loved the character development and realistic themes. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for future books by Cole.
I liked the storyline and premise of the book. It was well-written and I liked the characters too. However, I thought it was slow moving at times and think more editing might have helped.
While I can see the comparisons to Sally Rooney, I'm not sure Cole quite rises to her level. The characters ring true, but I kept wondering if the writer would be able to go beyond his own experience.