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Now You See It . . .

Stories from Cokesville, PA

Bathsheba Monk

Sarah Crichton Books

It's pretty much a straight shot from the upstate New York towns of Richard Russo's books to Bathsheba Monk's Cokesville, PA. This is coal and steel country. The sort of place where an inch of soot on the windowsill means a regular paycheck--and two inches means a fat one. And what's the best make-out spot in town? Next to the burning slag heap.

In seventeen beguiling, linked stories, spanning fourty-five years, Monk brings a corner of America alive as never before. Her world bursts with indelible characters: Mrs. Szilborski, who bakes great cake, but sprays her neighbors' dogs with mace; and Mrs. Wojic, who believes her husband was reincarnated--as one of those dogs. Then there is the younger generation: Annie Kusiak , who wants to write, and Theresa Gojuk, who dreams of stardom. Cokesville is their Yoknapatawpha; they ache to escape it and the ghosts of their ancestors and the regret of their parents. What ghosts--and what regrets! When Theresa's father Bruno falls into a vat of molten steel, the mill gives the family an ingot roughly his weight to bury.

As deliciously wry as Allegra Goodman in The Family Markowitz, and with the matter-of-fact humanity of Grace Paley, Bathsheba Monk leads us into a world that is at once totally surprising and recognizable. These stories glow like molten steel.

BOOK EXCERPTS

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Excerpted from Now You See It…by Bathsheba Monk. Copyright © 2006 by Bathsheba Monk. Published in June 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
 
Small Fry
_________
 
   1980
 
After Sam Bledsoe divorced me, I decided to cut my ties with Boston, where I had lived for ten years, and move to Los Angeles. I stayed with Theresa Gojuk, or "Tess Randall," as she was known in the business. I was trying to break into screenwriting, and she was trying to break out of an alcohol and pill habit. We'd been friends since high school, the
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REVIEWS

Praise for Now You See It . . .

"Monk's loosely connected set of short stories makes up a witty, sardonic history of several families with ties to Cokesville, a coal-mining and steel-mill town in Pennsylvania. Anchroing some stories are a seemingly autobiographical character, Annie Kusiak, and her friend Theresa, or Tess, who has become a soap opera star in Hollywood. The stories move from their grandparents' generation in the 1940s up through the 1990s as grandsons and granddaughters try to make it outside the Rust Belt. One story even follows an elderly neighbor into the hereafter. Themes recur like genetic traits: aside from the uncanny lure of show business, we encounter resilient, sometimes beautiful women, men who take pride in their dangerous work, and those who feel trapped and abandon their families. Monk shows how even an unpleasant place becomes a part of you and depicts the loss and disconnection that set in with that place is taken over by economic or historic forces. A debut author of great promise, Monk makes us see that we are all exiles in a changing world. Highly recommended." --Library Journal
 
"The main pleasure of reading [Now You See It...] resides in its steadily accruing portrait of a sensibility--how it feels to be from Cokesville, how being from Cokesville shapes thought and perception. Local mentality can be a greased pig of a literary objective, typically slathered as it is with layers of sentiment and convention, but Monk's relatively minimalist approach gets a grip on her subject with a certain businesslike lack of fuss that is itself exemplary of the regional style.
 
Monk's confident, knowing voice makes a strong debut in "Now You See It ... ," establishing Cokesville and its people in our imaginary geography. --Chicago Tribune
 
"Monk, who grew up in Pennsylvania coal-and-steel country, sets her stories in the fictional town of Cokesville, where gardens grow through slag heaps, women scrub their sidewalks free of soot, and men scrounge for jobs that are likely to kill or maim. Set mostly among Polish immigrants and their descendants over a forty-year period, the stories use deadpan humor to combat a sense of hopelessness and economic futility. The most compelling are narrated by an adolescent would-be writer determined to avoid the "lava show" make-out spot, where carts dump molten cake and girls her age get pregnant. Even those who escape, however, can't seem to free themselves from the slow burn of their heritage, much like a decades-old underground coal fire, ignited "when someone dumped a load of garbage down a mine shaft." --The New Yorker
 
"Now You See It..., the collection of linked stories by Bathseba Monk, a coal-and-steel country prodigal daughter, reads like a loosely bound collection of postcards, missives created from some less earth-bound material than paper and ink. These tales are so tidy and subtle it seems they might float away, which is curious because the world they orbit is one in which a man who falls into a vat of molten metal on the job will be replaced, in his funeral casket, by an ingot that weighs what his body did in life. Gratis, from the steel company. Or, in the case of Bruno Gojuk, an ingot that, at a hundred and seventy five pounds, weighs slightly less than he did at the end of his life-closer to what he weighed thirty years ago or more, when he first filled out an application to work at the steel plant. This is Cokesville, whose inhabitants have not only "waked steel ingots," but, over the years, "stood reverently in front of hunks of coal when mines collapsed on miners and the mines were sealed before they could retrieve the bodies." It is a town filled with guilt trips from the union, teenage necking, and the Ks and Zs of Polish surnames. This is a heavy world from which the bright and young yearn to escape, chief among them Annie Kusiak, Monk's protagonist of sorts, whose twin desires to find her own identity and success as a writer lead her on a serendipitous sad-funny path that includes flirtations with suicide, Judaism and cowgirl-hood. Like the other characters who try to walk out, disappear entirely or put themselves up in the stars (i.e. Tess Randall, nee Theresa Gojuk, about to be photographed in Vanity Fair), Annie keeps circling Cokesville warily. Now You See It... is a sublime and deadpan debut that cocks an eyebrow and reminds us that it is never a light thing, this leaving home, though we all must try." --Anna Godbersen, Esquire
 
"Bathsheba Monk is a writer I'll be talking about when I talk about brilliant new writers. Now You See It . . . is the work of an imaginative, funny, and electrically gifted storyteller." --Tim O'Brien

"Bathsheba Monk must have been thinking about these stories for a long time--stories this good are earned. She seems to have stories busting out of her. It is as if Winesburg, Ohio were moved to Cokesville and filtered through the eye of a tough, seen-it-all narrator whose singular personality misses nothing and reports back with a lack of fanfare that socks you in the gut."--Susan Minot

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Bathsheba Monk

  • Bathsheba Monk was born to a family of Pennsylvania coal miners. After being discharged from the Army, she lived in Europe. She recently settled in Allentown, Pennsylvania where she is writing her second book.
  • Bathsheba Monk Thomas Stumpf
    Bathsheba Monk
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Now You See It . . .

Stories from Cokesville, PA

Bathsheba Monk

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