Very Cold People
by Sarah Manguso
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 08 Feb 2022 | Archive Date 06 May 2022
“Compact and beautiful . . . This novel bordering on a novella punches above its weight.”—The New York Times
“Very Cold People reminded me of My Brilliant Friend.”—The New Yorker
“My parents didn’t belong in Waitsfield, but they moved there anyway.”
For Ruthie, the frozen town of Waitsfield, Massachusetts, is all she has ever known.
Once home to the country’s oldest and most illustrious families—the Cabots, the Lowells: the “first, best people”—by the tail end of the twentieth century, it is an unforgiving place awash with secrets.
Forged in this frigid landscape Ruthie has been dogged by feelings of inadequacy her whole life. Hers is no picturesque New England childhood but one of swap meets and factory seconds and powdered milk. Shame blankets her like the thick snow that regularly buries nearly everything in Waitsfield.
As she grows older, Ruthie slowly learns how the town’s prim facade conceals a deeper, darker history, and how silence often masks a legacy of harm—from the violence that runs down the family line to the horrors endured by her high school friends, each suffering a fate worse than the last. For Ruthie, Waitsfield is a place to be survived, and a girl like her would be lucky to get out alive.
In her eagerly anticipated debut novel, Sarah Manguso has written, with characteristic precision, a masterwork on growing up in—and out of—the suffocating constraints of a very old, and very cold, small town. At once an ungilded portrait of girlhood at the crossroads of history and social class as well as a vital confrontation with an all-American whiteness where the ice of emotional restraint meets the embers of smoldering rage, Very Cold People is a haunted jewel of a novel from one of our most virtuosic literary writers.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 47 members
I like to think I know pretty early on whether I will fall in love with a book or not. I can usually sense a tone, either of unease or unspoken terror, that immediately captivates me. What that says about me, I don’t wish to explore. But Sarah Manguso’s debut novel, Very Cold People, hooked me from the very start. There is something immediately unsettling about this book, and our narrator, Ruthie, as she recounts her youth in the small town of Waitfield, Massachusetts.
Very Cold People is a wonderfully crafted collection of vignettes, as Ruthie shares the ghastliness of her adolescence. The stories are depressingly familiar, with teenage pregnancies, violence, broken friendships, and seemingly inescapable misfortune. Manguso’s sparse prose is gorgeous; there are certain breathtaking lines that tell a million stories in ten words. This is a novel to be savored.
The main thread of the novel is an incredibly toxic relationship between Ruthie and her mother. Ruthie is bombarded with insults, attacks on her character, and flat-out indifference. It is absolutely heartbreaking, but becomes even more so when we discover Ruthie’s mother’s motivation. The plot unravels slowly and beautifully. Again, something to be savored.
I can’t recommend Very Cold People enough. It is a phenomenally beautiful book, and Ruthie is an incredibly compelling central character. While it is Manguso’s first novel, she has found success with philosophical, non-fiction titles such as 300 Arguments, and Ongoingness. Her rich and incredibly personal writing style has translated to fiction incredibly well. Take a few hours and lose yourself in Very Cold People; you won’t regret it.