In casting around for a novel to nominate this time around, I picked up a book that my friend Garth had told me about. Garth took creative writing classes with Marshall Klimasewiski as an undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis, and after reading Klimasewiski's book The Cottagers, Garth recommended it to me as "a novel of psychological suspense so preposterously well-written that it almost loses sight of its own plot." Once I had read the book, Garth and I talked about it and I was able to share his surprise that it hadn't received more attention upon its publication last summer.
Perhaps some of the reason for this lack of attention is that at first glance the book appears to be a novel of relationships. It is centered on a pair of couples - academics with too much money and time and on vacation in a remote nook of Vancouver Island, no less; the sort of story that the New Yorker has made us tired of, that type of book seems to crowd our shelves.
But into this moody mix, Klimasewiski throws a firecracker in the form of nineteen-year-old Cyrus Collingswood, a boy with a Holden Caulfield-sized chip on his shoulder. Cyrus the "townie" is simultaneously a savvy chameleon and achingly naïve, and in intersecting with the lives of these self-absorbed academics, these "cottagers" wandering into sleepy East Sooke for an extended stay are changed forever.
From the opening pages, when we first meet creepy Cyrus, peering through the brush at his new temporary neighbors, we know something terrible will happen, but it is how events play out, how the characters intersect and spin apart and come back together that make this book terrific. The ending, in particular, is astonishing. With characters that are brilliantly written but hard to love, the book will bring on oddly satisfying cringes and pangs and groans; I'm glad to have found The Cottagers and even more pleased to recommend it.