Kid Coole

M. G. Stephens

 

ISBN 978-1-956005-52-3       280 pages         $20.00

 

Kid Coole tells the story of a young, up-and-coming lightweight boxer out of the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. But it is not just a boxing novel; it is one of the best observed novels about a way of life that most of us have never seen, much less thought about. Besides boxing, Kid Coole is a story about social justice and multicultural America. In writing an exquisite boxing novel, Stephens also gives voice to a cast of outsiders and marginalized down-and-out Americans, most of them living in Sticks or Leathe, the tiny upstate towns where their lives unfold. Even if you have never cared for the world of boxing, this is a novel worth reading for its poetry and authentic rhythms of experience of our country’s underbelly, its poor and disenfranchised, its down-and-out and forgotten Americans. Michael Gregory Stephens forces us to see this world and its people, and to listen to these voices and their throw-away lives.

Michael Gregory Stephens is a brilliant writer, with a great imagination and heart. And his prose is downright gorgeous.

     Hilma Wolitzer

M. G. Stephens, that dynamo prose stylist, has written a terrific novel, propulsive, action-packed, full of vivid, complicated characters, pleasurable from first to last.  His ear for the way people talk is astounding.  Kid Coole, his likable if forgetful pugilist-protagonist, may not always remember where his corner in the ring is, but Stephens knows every inch of the boxing canvas.  Even those who have no interest in the sport will be drawn into the vortex of this brilliant piece of storytelling.

     Phillip Lopate

Here is what critics have said

about Stephens’ other two Coole family novels

 

 

The Brooklyn Book of the Dead

 

“Michael Stephens was my Dante into dark and dangerous places that native Irish writers never knew. Mr. Stephens, sardonic, witty, places his characters in the path of an oncoming future that seems to offer little hope though you know in the end they’ll prevail.”

    Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes

 

“This beautiful, cruel book--classical in form, Celtic in language, Brooklyn-American in content—is Michael Stephens’s best book and may well be a masterpiece. It’s like a pit bull on a chain, and you can lose a hand if you try to pet it. Read it carefully, warily.”

    Russell Banks, author of Affliction and Continental Drift

 

“...witty, thoughtful, and absorbingly readable, as well as an important study of urban violence.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

“Angry, funny and tender, rather than grim, Stephens is a poet of the negative, the failed, the shameful, who can match Samuel Beckett for dour comedy and Joyce for the lyric lilt. In five long chapters of increasing power, Stephens dismantles the American dream.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

 

“Lyric, urgent, stunning—Michael Stephens has written a eulogy to a time and place, East New York, and to a people—the Irish of Brooklyn who will live on in this book of the dead.”

    Maureen Howard, author of Natural History

 

“Lesser novelists faced with this array of characters would be content with merely depicting the decay of familial relationships. Mr. Stephens weaves them into a poem that soars. Out of remarkable bits and pieces—the interior monologues, the vivid scatological imagery, the impressionistic dialogue—there emerges a Coole gestalt that is far more than the sum of its sad ingredients.”

    New York Times Sunday Book Review

 

“It is a joy to read because Michael Stephens is such a superb writer, a master of language, in short, a poet. In his immaculate artistry he has given us another way of perceiving our lives and our struggle, forcing us to ask ourselves what our legacy will be.”

    Hubert Selby Jr., author of Last Exit to Brooklyn

 

“Even as the new debate about immigration begins to build in America, a sprinkling of books about the last huge surge of migrants has begun to appear...Now Michael Stephens has added to this antinostalgia with his wonderfully titled The Brooklyn Book of the Dead, which deals with the next generation, the children (the sixteen children) of an Irish immigrant who landed in East New York in the early part of the century...With rare exceptions, they are not the glib Irish of legend: deprived of the word fuckn, their exchanges would dwindle nearly to silence. But their Olympian dysfunctionality speaks volumes about the old man and the life he gave them...This is not the usual Brooklyn of distant memoir, all stickball and egg creams and the Dodgers—in fact, this may be the only Brooklyn book of the period not to even mention the Bums, and to refer only in passing to the Spaldeen ball, touchstone of most front-stoop sentimentalists...If there is a tree growing in this Brooklyn, none of this crew has noticed it, probably because they’re too busy ducking punches.

     “Stephens has written about the Cooles before, and perhaps he will do so again, continuing to supply a necessary if nasty corrective to one of the myths of the moment. In a strange way his grimness nearly makes this book a political statement, since so much of the new revulsion at immigration comes from a sense that this latest wave is different, harder, more foreign. Having met Inspector Coole, that seems highly unlikely.”

    Bill McKibben, Hungry Mind Review

 

“Although Stephens reveals much about the Cooles that is unpleasant, The Brooklyn Book of the Dead is very funny...Although proud, hard-drinking, shanty-Irish families such as the Cooles have long been a feature of American fiction, Stephens gives them a fresh, authentic, late-20th century voice...His verbal brillliance in recreating their gritty world brings to mind the novels of Flann O’Brien...Michael Stephens has provided an inspiring elegy for a man, a family and a way of life.”

    Eamonn Wall, The Washington Post Book World

 

“Not since Eugene O’Neill and James T. Farrell has a writer hurled his brilliance so passionately at an Irish American family in order to burn away all trace of false sentimentality and illuminate a core rotten with alcoholism, violence and despair. Harrowing is too gentle a word for Michael Stephens’ powerful new novel: Call it excoriating, brutal, tragic. And unforgettable...Michael Stephens has made a world here as riveting and dangerous as fiction can get. His writing is as powerful, furious and real as that of any writer living today. If you’re not afraid of entering hell on Earth, you must read this book.”

    Ephraim Paul, Philadelphia Inquirer

 

“There’s a toughness to Stephens’ writing; like James Joyce, he uses it as a weapon against what oppresses. But also like Joyce he can fondle a recalcitrant reality with words newly sculpted from material equal parts street talk and poetic song. And his accumulating roll of perfect sentences comes on like Samuel Beckett...”

    Jerome Klinkowitz, Chicago Tribune

 

“The Brooklyn Book of the Dead is a stark courageous book, garrulous with old resentments and tender moments, smarting with life, painful, funny, truth-telling mythologizing, and deconstructive...Stephens takes us on a long day’s journey into family dysfunction, with Joycean specificities, and the candor of a poet. So often was I brought to the precipice of wonder, laughing, and sobbing (as I’m told is appropriate conduct for such last rites as a wake), that I finished the last page in a revery that was half-besotted, and bemused with bitterness and rue.”

    Richard Elman, author of Tar Beach

 

“The Brooklyn Book of the Dead shows a master of verbal fireworks in top form. The language is rich, arresting, bursting with color and energy, as Michael Stephens chronicles the Coole family in all its misery, vice, and error, as well as its surprising moments of private and communal grace.”

    Lynne Sharon Schwartz, author of Leaving Brooklyn

 

“Stephens, sharp enough not to find literary ‘dignity’ in the dysfunctional House of Coole, does evoke a sad irony and gritty humor from the bleakness and grime of their lives. Recommended.”

    Library Journal

 

“This is dark, brutal stuff, as far from family values and the Brady Bunch as one’s likely to get. But Stephens writes with a passion for the streets, for the thickness of emotion that hangs like smoke around the Cooles, and with—as much as is possible—empathy for these fractured, wandering characters.”

    David Cline, Booklist

 

“Once in a great while a writer emerges whose work is so different, so startling, that you just have to sit up and take notice. Michael Stephens is such a writer and his new novel, The Brooklyn Book of the Dead, is a masterpiece...While Stephens can turn a phrase in a distinctly Irish way and, indeed, the novel’s 20 or so central characters are all members of an Irish immigrant family, this book is as American as a drive-by shooting.”

    Mike Hudson, The Irish Echo

 

“It is a remarkable achievement, a book of great power and beauty and heartbreak. It should be paid attention to by anybody who thinks he has anything to do with contemporary American fiction...a kind of persistent litany of woe and strife and bitter comedy. It is a book by a writer of great authority, a mature writer, in short, a very formidable artist. The Brooklyn Book of the Dead is a cruelly funny, wrenchingly sad, yet beautiful work of fiction.”

    Gilbert Sorrentino, author of Mulligan Stew

 

“Stephens’ powerful and tender-hearted novel is tour de force eulogy, but it praises not just the dearly departed, but the dearly living and the toll death takes on us all.”

     William O’Rourke, South Bend Tribune

 

“A harrowing tale of the psychopathology of everyday life for a typical middle-class postwar Irish family. (Here are the domestic diseases that were taken to the suburbs. Here, finally, is revealed how it happened that your father neglected ever to touch you...But even here in the depths of the world of ‘hungry ghosts’ there is a lovely mantra I’ve been repeating to myself for weeks in a perfect pique of mindfulness: ‘Ah, ya dirty fookin’ Irish bastard ya.’ Repeat after me.”

    Exquisite Corpse

 

“Choc-a-block with lively and often brutal verbal interaction, the turns of phrase alternate between Beckettian starkness and Joycean garrulousness...It is a brilliant treatise on dysfunctionalism caused by alcohol and possibly exile that will probably alienate some readers. If you can’t take straight-up scenarios about violence, drug and alcohol addictions, incest and familial cruelty, stay clear. But The Brooklyn Book of the Dead is ultimately a devastating, powerful book, and definitely worth the read.”

    Irish Edition (Philadelphia)

 

“This tough urban novel is a labyrinthine story about a contemporary Irish-American family who live in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York...Just imagine a mix between the novels of Hubert Selby, Jr. and the films of Martin Scorcese. It is that fallen world that Michael Stephens captures with such skill and imagination. It artfully combines the genres of the epic novel and lyric into a new hard-boiled synthesis. This book is about memory and the past.”

    Alexander Laurence, Cups

 

“Stephens is an exceptional writer, always writing well, no matter how joyless his subject matter...There is real joy in doing anything well, even if it is creating variious kinds of psychological trauma, and Stephens’ Coole family captures that joy, along with its attendant illnesses. By pointing out the bones at the bottom of the cliff the novel may intend to keep more of society away from the edge.”

    Stephen D. Gibson, Sycamore Review

 

“Great God a-mighty! The Brooklyn Book of the Dead is one powerful, beautifully written book. One of the absolute mysteries of art is that it can depict the ugly, the revolting, and the nauseating so that the attractiveness of the performance, and its truth, balance the grime of the subject matter. Am I on course to see both Joyce and Barthelme (The Dead Father) in this 400-horse-power prose?”

    Guy Davenport

 

“Stephens’s masterful novel is a hard-hitting, surly, and sarcastic look at the underbelly of the American dream. (He) evokes the gritty world of two generations of Irish-Americans in Brooklyn, isolated by poverty and motivated by an urgency to get out. His style is sharp and rebellious, full of attitude, humor, and a strangely hopeful despair...at once crazy and reassuring.”

    Harvard Review

 

“Stephens has no interest in the melancholy or sentimental. His strong prose is undiluted by the tears of family remorse. (He) uses the Coole family as a metaphor for family values, political correctness, the American promise and its decline.”

    Terry Collins, Tulsa World

 

“In this vividly drawn portrait, Stephens suggests that the Irish heritage itself is not only blighted but has also crossed the sea with its exiles to produce the maimed Irish-American adults of the Coole family.”

    Jill Brady Hamilton, Eire-Ireland

 

“They have returned to this always tough, but now meaner and more barren place (East New York) to drink and do dope beside their father’s open coffin, their memories of the hood and what passed for their childhoods erupting between quarrels and drinks. What emerges is a lava flow of cruelties sustained and inflicted, of beatings and fights and incest and drunken squalor, of adult lives plagued in various degrees by the anger and abuse of the past, interrupted only by a few shining islands of hard-edged Brooklyn humor.”

    Rose Rubin Rivera, Gallery

 

“In the land of Menendez Brothers trials and Jackson Family debacles, few can dispute the fact that the American Family is in deep trouble, least of all, Michael Stephens, whose recent The Brooklyn Book of the Dead tackles the decline of not only the mother-father-brother-sister unit, but the inner city and the world, and does so at such a frenetic pace with such disturbing detail that his depiction of East New York makes South Central Los Angeles look like small potatoes. This is not a novel for everyone, and certainly not for those who want to believe that the American family is alive and well. But it should be. Devastating and honest, The Brooklyn Book of the Dead should be required reading for all of us, as tough as it is.”

    Lee Montgomery, American Book Review

 

 

Season at Coole, novel (l972, l985)

 

“It’s an eloquent style that calls for reading aloud, an urban Irish style perhaps, perfect for nipping out the back door, rolling garbage cans as obstacles after you, and loping over the rooftops to safety in a vacant lot.”

    Rolling Stone

 

“Don’t touch this book unless you value genuine talent wherever it shows. But it can’t be denied. It shows.”

    L. A. Times

 

“A host of colorful, depressing, funny, but always original characters.”

    Publishers Weekly

 

“This first novel, scarcely promoted on publication, is a modern comic masterpiece of Irish family life.”

    Richard Elman, Gentleman’s Quarterly

 

“...a magniloquent, malignant rant, somewhere between James Joyce expatiated and Richard Pryor on a roll.”

    Newsday

 

“A bravura novel, funny and wild and language is its pole star, language that careens with a mad, sweet Irish lilt.”

    Kirkus Reviews

 

“Michael Stephens is Irish, for which I forgive him; and he has written a beautiful book, for which I thank him. It is a lyric for all seasons.”

    Hubert Selby Jr.

 

“A very beautiful novel, heartbreaking and comic, which is no easy thing to do.”

    Gilbert Sorrentino

 

“Fantastic, astonishing, powerful...shines with honesty, craft, talent and love.”

    Joel Oppenheimer

 

“Michael Stephens’ voice prowls through his own experience with a savage yet lyrical intensity. An impressive book.”

    Rudolph Wurlitzer

 

“The novel reads like a ribald nightmare--sort of a blend of Dante, the Marx Brothers, and the Marquis de Sade.”

    New Bedford Standard Times

 

“Very good...an impressive accomplishment.”

    Chicago Daily News

 

“Stephens is very much his own writer, and this is an irresistibly lively first novel.”

    Library Journal

 

“A breeding, beautiful, and very powerful creative act on the author’s part.”

    Long Island Catholic

 

 

 

M. G. Stephens (Michael Gregory Stephens) was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and further out on Long Island, into a family of sixteen children. His father came from Ireland and his mother was from an old New England family whose ancestors included a North African indentured servant to the Wheelock family, the founders of Dartmouth College. His mother grew up in a 27-room Brooklyn mansion on Madison near Stuyvesant, right where Spike Lee shot Do the Right Thing, which was also a few blocks from where Stephens lived as a child. He has been around boxing all his life. He also worked various jobs, including a stint in the Merchant Marine, greens-keeping, being a caddy, Christmas tree salesman on the Lower East Side, gas-pump jockey, dishwasher, East Asia correspondent, bartender, and of course journeyman boxer and sparring partner. He lived for many years (15) in London, but now resides just north of Chicago, and has been exiled from New York for over twenty-five years.  Kid Coole is the third novel about the Coole family, the other two being The Brooklyn Book of the Dead and Season at Coole, whose fiftieth anniversary of its publication by E. P. Dutton is in 2022. These novels comprise The Coole Trilogy. Besides Kid Coole, Spuyten Duyvil has just published Stephens’ novel, King Ezra, about Ezra Pound.