A TODAY SHOW #ReadWithJenna BOOK CLUB PICK • An indelible love story about two very different people navigating the entanglements of class and identity and coming of age in an America coming apart at the seams—this is "an extraordinary debut about the ties that bind families together and tear them apart across generations" (Ann Patchett, best-selling author of The Dutch House).
In the run-up to the 2016 election, Owen Callahan, an aspiring writer, moves back to Kentucky to live with his Trump-supporting uncle and grandfather. Eager to clean up his act after wasting time and potential in his early twenties, he takes a job as a groundskeeper at a small local college, in exchange for which he is permitted to take a writing course.
Here he meets Alma Hazdic, a writer in residence who seems to have everything that Owen lacks—a prestigious position, an Ivy League education, success as a writer. They begin a secret relationship, and as they grow closer, Alma—who comes from a liberal family of Bosnian immigrants—struggles to understand Owen’s fraught relationship with family and home.
Exquisitely written; expertly crafted; dazzling in its precision, restraint, and depth of feeling, Groundskeeping is a novel of haunting power and grace from a prodigiously gifted young writer.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Lee Cole’s marvelous debut is a tender examination of modern love. In exchange for maintaining the grounds at a small Kentucky college, Owen enrolls in a writing workshop. Alma, an Ivy-educated Bosnian immigrant, is an author in residence on campus, and while charmed by Owen, she has some concerns about his history of working menial jobs to support a drug habit. Cole expertly summons the hipster bars and bingeable TV shows that bring young lovers together. We were really rooting for Alma and Owen’s relationship, even as they struggled with issues of class, privilege, and the looming 2016 election. Groundskeeping is a perfect campus novel that resists romantic clichés, honestly contemplating whether our differences matter more than we care to admit.
Cole's nimble debut combines elements of Southern fiction, the campus novel, and youthful romance. Twenty-eight-year-old Owen Callahan, an aspiring writer, returns to his native Kentucky in 2016 after being semi-homeless in Colorado. He takes a job as a groundskeeper at Ashby College, where he audits a writing workshop and meets Alma Hadzics, the daughter of Bosnian immigrants. Alma has already published a book of short stories and is at Ashby on a fellowship. Alma has a sort of boyfriend, and she and Owen drift into a relationship that slowly becomes more serious. Inevitably, he introduces her to his dysfunctional family and she introduces him to her prosperous mother and father. Owen's uncle Cort is a MAGA-lover, and Alma's parents always have MSNBC on. In the end, it's not politics that threatens to derail Owen and Alma's romance but fealty to their own professional aspirations as Owen's literary career begins to take off. Cole fills his novel with a gallery of fascinating supporting characters such as Owen's conspiracy theorist coworker Rando; Owen's grandfather, a WWII vet who keeps a VHS collection of classic westerns; and Alma's Springsteen-loving father. And though Owen makes some questionable choices, he and Alma make for an odd couple worth rooting for. In the end, this is the strongest story about young writers in love since Andrew Martin's Early Work.