Very Cold People

Sarah Manguso

28 April 2022
208 pages


‘I can’t think of a writer who is at once so formally daring and so rigorously uncompromising as Sarah Manguso' - Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man

No-one’s there to watch her, so she just waits for the lights to turn on, waits to begin her performance.

No-one is watching Ruth. She, however, watches everyone and everything, and waits, growing up on the outskirts of an affluent but threadbare New England township, on the outer edge of popularity. She doesn’t necessarily understand what she is seeing, but she records faithfully and with absolute clarity the unfurling of her awkward youth, under even more awkward parenting. As they alternately mock, ignore, undermine and discount their daughter, Ruth’s parents present now as damaged, now as inadequate, now as monstrous. All the while the Future comes towards them all, steadily, inexorably, for some of them fatally. And the fog of the Past and the abuses committed under it gathers, swirls, settles, intermittently clears.

Watching the future come, the reader of Very Cold People is immobilized, transfixed as much by the gross failures of the adults to be adults, as by the determinedly graceful arc Ruth’s trajectory makes towards an adulthood of her own making.

Longlisted for the Wingate Prize 2023
Financial Times Best Debuts 2022

When I finished Very Cold People, I felt my whole body unclench. In the process of reading this creepy coming-of-age tale, I seemed to have trapped a nerve in my shoulder - it's that tense . . . Fans of Gwendoline Riley and Catherine Lacey's unconventional stories about family and community dysfunction are also likely to appreciate Manguso's pitiless, minutely observed prose . . . a masterclass in unease . . . so skilful, so strange, and so unique that I suspect it will stay with me for a very long time.
'My parents didn’t belong in Waitsfield, but they moved there anyway.’ So opens Manguso’s crystalline, mordant first novel about who belongs and who doesn’t in a declining Massachusetts town, as fortunes and status ebb and arrivistes displace the WASP gentry. Ruthie, the protagonist, has never felt at home in her hometown, and often wonders why; like other New England communities, Waitsfield hides its secrets well, until they erupt with a vengeance. Manguso puts her own indelible stamp on the literary terrain of John Cheever and Susan Minot, daring to brush against the third rail of class.
Magnificent . . . I hope all my fellow reader friends can find their way to this title either through their local library or independent bookseller. It is indeed special.