In this lavishly praised collection of short stories, A Wild, Cold, State, Debra Monroe takes us into the lives of women striving for love and emotional fulfillment amidst a forbidding topography of glacial winds and stormy, unpredictable men. Monroe’s stories and novellas are linked by the lives of six characters who inhabit the cold, unforgiving terrain of rural Wisconsin. As these characters pass in and out of each other’s lives, what persists is a state of mind in which—as one character thinks—“it was possible, inevitable, that love would streak from the sky and warm me all the way to the soles of my cold feet.” These tales run a gamut of moods and textures, ranging from the nostalgic “The World’s Great Love Novels,” in which the young narrator observes the extreme compromises adults make in the name of love, to the hard-edged and gritty “Crossroads Cafe,” in which a waitress searches for tenderness, though nothing in her life so far suggests that tenderness is available, to the ruefully funny “Royal Blues,” in which the wife of a musician copes with her husband’s spiraling coke habit, at the same time noting that the facts of life aren’t wildness and desolation but the search for human connection that keeps wildness and desolation at bay. Reeling and dipping with cadences of conversation-as-found-poetry and an overweening make-do philosophy, these stories read like surreal confessions, dispatches from the battlefield of life.
Debra Monroe enters the often icy territory of love. No matter where you actually are—be it the Loire Valley or Aunt Judy’s backyard—you can’t help but disappear into Monroe’s idiosyncratic landscapes.
—Elaina Richardson, Elle (a “Ten Best Books to Take on Vacation” selection)
Monroe can rattle you with an image and chill you with a word.
This wonderfully rich fiction bills itself as a short story collection, but it turns into a near-novel before our eyes. Smart and rueful, it manages to be specific to a wild, cold state yet true to the general human condition.
—Amanda Heller, The Boston Globe