Waterloo A Novel

Karen Olsson




Trade Paperback

320 Pages



Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy

"You're in a slump." Nick Lasseter's boss is talking about his job performance as a reporter for the Waterloo Weekly—but he might as well be talking about Nick's whole life. His current assignment, a profile of a legendary, liberal ex-congressman, is in trouble even before his subject abruptly dies. His sexy girlfriend has spurned him in favor of a muffin magnate. His uncle, a booze-fueled political operative, has decided to crash on Nick's couch after being thrown out of his own house. And Nick's best friends and ex-bandmates seem to spend more and more of their time at the local bar, hazily lamenting a lost golden age of high ideals and low cover charges that suspiciously coincides with their own rapidly-disappearing youth.

When Nick grudgingly agrees to write a piece about a rising female Republican legislator, he stumbles onto a political fight in which the good guys and bad guys start to seem interchangeable. And not even the deceased can be relied on to stick to their stories when Nick gets involved with the late congressman's confidante, a young woman who has her own hidden ties to the town's history. As they search the dim depths of a civic past that's anything but dead and buried, they find that some things never change—things like the moral ambiguity of practical politics and the sad, hilarious cluelessness of young men in love.

Bittersweet and biting, elegiac and sharply observed, Waterloo is a portrait of a generation in search of itself—and a love letter to the slackers, rockers, hustlers, hacks, and hangers-on who populate Austin, Texas—from a formidable new intelligence in American fiction.


Praise for Waterloo

"Tart and melancholy, Waterloo is a sharply focused snapshot of contemporary journalists, rockers, politicos, lovers, and losers adrift in post-millennial Texas. Karen Olsson elegantly superimposes these modern lives on an affecting portrait of their forebears. The result is complex, beautifully rendered, and deeply satisfying ."—Seth Greenland, author of The Bones

"Karen Olsson is the most incisive and engaging writer to hit the Texas literary scene in a long time."—Larry McMurtry

"Waterloo is a wonderful book, in both senses of the word: it's a consummate work of literary art, beautiful in design and unfaltering in its realization, as intricate and well-finished as a hand-carved chest. And inside there are these wonders, too: men and women engaged in the graceful-ungainly pursuit of life, love, and political power. It's a broad book, and a deep one, but it's written with the lightest of touches. It should find its audience in anyone who cares how the world once went, and how it goes."—Jim Lewis, author of Why the Tree Loves the Ax

"Olsson's dry irony, nuanced observations and enjoyably moody atmosphere build into a sophisticated portrait of her hometown . . . A debut to be enjoyed by idealists everywhere, and one bound to get Austin locals gossiping."—Kirkus Reviews

"In her first novel, Olsson, an accomplished feature writer and award-winning investigative journalist, offers an affectionate and gently humorous tribute to her hometown of Austin, TX, (referred to here as Waterloo) before the high-tech boom of the 1990s changed it forever. This is a story about musicians and politicians who are 'united in their desires not to have to work too hard, to be locally renowned, and to drink beer paid for by somebody else.' Aging former musician Nick is estranged from his girlfriend and working unhappily as a reporter at a local newspaper; maturity comes when he confronts his personal problems and the changes that have come to Waterloo—subject matter that Olsson skillfully depicts. Not surprisingly given the author's profession, politics and journalism also play a major role in the story and are handled with intelligence and insight . . . this debut . . . has much to recommend it."—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community College, Library Journal

"In Olsson's intricate, ambitious debut novel, the titular setting, an undisguised Austin, Tex., figures just as vividly as her sympathetic slacker protagonist, Nick Lasseter. A news and politics reporter, Nick, at 32 years old, suffers a faded sense of purpose. He's hung up on his ex-girlfriend, Liza, who just got engaged to her now wealthy childhood friend, Miles. The Sunset, Nick's favorite dive bar, is closing down, another sad sign of the times since the tech boom altered the city's landscape. Jaded by political rhetoric, Nick is tired of his beat, and his editor at the Waterloo Weekly warns him he's underperforming. But Nick is assigned to profile Beverly Flintic, a newly elected Republican state legislator, whose story the narrative follows alongside Nick's. Beverly, a middle-aged married woman, is having an affair with beefcake gubernatorial candidate Mark Hardaway. She's also embroiled in an urban planning scheme, a boondoggle Nick's alcoholic uncle Bones tips him off to. This story, along with a growing romantic interest in fellow reporter Andrea Carter, might be the key to restarting Nick's engine. With clean, brisk prose, Olsson brings a specific, authentic sense of character, time and place to this story of Texas politicians and muckrakers."—Amy Williams, Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Karen Olsson

  • Karen Olsson is a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly and a former editor of The Texas Observer. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Baffler, The Nation, and other publications. She has also won awards from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies for best investigative reporting and best news feature. She lives in Austin, Texas. Waterloo is her first novel.

  • Karen Olsson