A remarkable debut collection, Kelly Cooper's Eyehill provides a multi-hued portrait of a small prairie town. Too small to support a high school or a drugstore, Eyehill is populated by men and women who have worked for generations to wrest a living from the dry, rolling hills. Like people anywhere else, they hunger for love, understanding, a decent living, and safety and comfort in their homes. Their passion for something more, something better, is tangled by their almost visceral attachment to the land and by the dangerous allure of an oil industry that grows more rapacious every year.
In this startling debut collection of loosely linked stories, characters disappear only to resurface once again a few stories later. Among the central characters are Rhea, a girl whose mother abandoned her and her father when she was three and who grows to adulthood full of questions and contradictions; Jarvis, a boy whom Rhea loves but wants as a boyfriend only when he has to marry his pregnant girlfriend; and the Lalonde brothers, so different and yet so clearly formed by their shared circumstances.
A strange eroticism pervades "They Secretly Pray for Rain." A subtle, mostly denied violence underlies "Very Little Blood," but it percolates to the surface in the terrible climax of "River Judith." The ancient aquifer flowing below the prairie pulses through the very marrow of the men's bones. Farming is not what they do, but what they are, and interference is fatal. In this small, tightly knit community, secrets are essential. The need to keep silent and to control terrifying emotions is at the same time necessary and ruinous, and the stories people tell hide as much as they reveal.
About the author
Kelly Cooper grew up in the tiny farming community of Senlac, Saskatchewan, where she vaccinated, branded, and ear-tagged cattle, sorted calves on foot and on horseback, drove cattle to pasture on horseback, and drove a tractor and a three-ton truck. A graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, Cooper taught high school English and later moved to Belleisle Creek, New Brunswick, with her husband, where until recently, she worked as an art teacher. The only girl among siblings and cousins, she routinely did "men's work," and now works with her husband on their dairy farm. Cooper's stories have been published the Fiddlehead, Room of One's Own, Descant, Grain, Prairie Fire, the Malahat Review, and the Windsor Review. They have been featured in anthologies such as Coming Attractions '02, Water Studies, and Home for Christmas. "River Judith" won the Fiddlehead Fiction Prize, and an early version of Eyehill won the prestigious David Adams Literary Award. Eyehill is her long-awaited first book.
"Eyehill is a remarkable book, weaving together the small moments of individual lives to give us the sense of an entire community and a whole way of life. It is rare to find such range in a writer coupled with such a sureness of touch."
"Cooper's writing style and milieu resonate with Karen Solie's prairie poems in Short Haul Engine and Annie Proulx's Wyoming stories in Close Range. The lives of her characters are less hard-bitten and sun bleached than Proulx's... and Cooper is kinder in her judgment of them — allowing room for at least a hint of redemption. This is a book readers will come back to."
"Sophisticated, empathetic, and original, Kelly Cooper works emotional magic, turning a prairie town into a prism sparkling with vivid characters — waitresses, store clerks, farmers, runaway teens, actresses, dope growers, architects, cheating wives, and broken husbands. A glittering debut."
"Kelly Cooper's brilliantly envisioned stories are intricate puzzle pieces that, together, form an entire world, Eyehill makes you laugh out loud and breaks you open."
"[A] wise and bountiful debut."
<i>Globe and Mail</i>