Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso
If Edith Wharton wrote Ethan Frome in 1986, it might look like Very Cold People. Also set in a fictional Massachusetts town, Sarah Manguso’s first novel is a pithy coming-of-age story with a bleak outlook.
Ruthie doesn’t know why her non-WASP family lives in Waitsfield– they can’t afford it and they don’t fit in. Her parents are skinflint and emotionally withholding; they make Ruthie regift her birthday presents to other girls. Family secrets, sexual violence, and the exhaustion of hovering above the poverty line are background noise.
This is a book to read for prose, not plot. Sarah Manguso is a poet, and she writes in passages that are less vignette and more snippet. Ruthie’s observations are uncomfortably astute and gave me visceral middle school flashbacks. Very Cold People captures one of the more horrific aspects of childhood: the claustrophobia of being too young to escape your circumstances. Highly recommended for readers who appreciate realism.
(originally published in Bellingham Alive, April, 2022)