Expanding the world of his classic-in-the-making debut novel Early Work, Andrew Martin’s Cool for America is a hilarious collection of overlapping stories that explores the dark zone between artistic ambition and its achievement
The collection is bookended by the misadventures of Leslie, a young woman (first introduced in Early Work) who moves from New York to Missoula, Montana to try to draw herself out of a lingering depression, and, over the course of the book, gains painful insight into herself through a series of intense friendships and relationships.
Other stories follow young men and women, alone and in couples, pushing hard against, and often crashing into, the limits of their abilities as writers and partners. In one story, two New Jersey siblings with substance-abuse problems relapse together on Christmas Eve; in another, a young couple tries to make sense of an increasingly unhinged veterinarian who seems to be tapping, deliberately or otherwise, into the unspoken troubles between them. In tales about characters as they age from punk shows and benders to book clubs and art museums, the promise of community acts—at least temporarily—as a stay against despair.
Running throughout Cool for America is the characters’ yearning for transcendence through art: the hope that, maybe, the perfect, or even just the good-enough sentence, can finally make things right.
Martin (Early Work) captures young adults' aimless searches for stability in this bleak, revealing collection. In "The Changed Party," during a rained-out vacation on the Jersey shore, Lisa and Gary, freshly reunited following a separation, discover their eight-year-old daughter Amanda's compulsive habit of picking through the garbage and are troubled by a friend's drinking. In the title story, an unnamed assistant professor spending the summer in Missoula, Mont., wrestles with a powerful attraction to his friend's wife, who helps him recuperate from a broken leg. In "The Boy Vet," a baby-faced veterinarian pressures a softhearted literature PhD dropout to pay for emergency surgery on a stray dog. The protagonist of "Bad Feelings" distracts himself from his mom's surgery by going to "the third sequel to a blockbuster adaptation of a young adult book series" despite having not seen the others, and loses his keys in the empty theater. Moments of cynical humor pop up amid drug use, tumultuous relationships, or other self-defeating outlets for the characters' creative and personal frustrations. Though the people begin to blend together, each story has at least one or two standout, bleakly funny lines. Martin's sardonic tales are decent, if not breathtaking.