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Last Call: Stories


K. L. Cook’s debut collection of linked stories spans three generations in the life of one West Texas family. Events both tender and tragic lead to a strange and lovely vision of a world stitched together in tenuous ways as the characters struggle to make sense of their lives amid the shifting boundaries of marriage, family, class, and culture.

A series of unusual incidents—a daughter’s elopement, a sobering holiday trip, a vicious attack by the family dog, a lightning ...

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K. L. Cook’s debut collection of linked stories spans three generations in the life of one West Texas family. Events both tender and tragic lead to a strange and lovely vision of a world stitched together in tenuous ways as the characters struggle to make sense of their lives amid the shifting boundaries of marriage, family, class, and culture.

A series of unusual incidents—a daughter’s elopement, a sobering holiday trip, a vicious attack by the family dog, a lightning strike—provokes a mother of five to abandon her children. An oil rigger, inspired by sun-induced hallucinations, rescues his estranged wife, who doesn’t appreciate his chivalry. In the wake of his father’s and brother’s deaths, a teenage boy finds a precarious solace working with his mother at a country-western bar. A cosmetics salesman schemes to buy Costa Rica and flirts dangerously with mobsters in Las Vegas. A woman fleeing her fourth marriage arrives at a complicated understanding of love and responsibility.

Railroad worker and conman, grieving son and battered wife—these characters explore the limits of family fragility and resilience. Their stories—suggesting unlikely connections between comedy and pathos, cruelty and generosity—promise a hard-won dignity and hope.

K. L. Cook’s award-winning stories have appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines, including American Short Fiction, Threepenny Review, and Harvard Review. Cook teaches creative writing and literature at Prescott College in Arizona.

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Editorial Reviews


“In Cook’s hands, the series of linked stories introducing us to three generations of Tates fairly thrums with keen insight borne of uncommon wisdom and unwavering compassion for his characters. . . . As each of the Tates takes his or her turn in the spotlight, we come to know a family shaken by violence, overcome by sorrow, and most of all, driven by a palpable longing for something or someone always just out of reach. Cook's debut collection is a breathtakingly haunting and magical tapestry of human emotions.”—Booklist
Colorado Review - Nicole Backens

“Cook understands the intersection between coincidence and insight, and he demonstrates a flair for picking out those random and nonsensical moments . . . that, when paired with a narrator’s retrospect, create meaning.”—Nicole Backens, Colorado Review

Salt Lake Tribune - Martin Naparsteck

“The dozen interlocking stories in K. L. Cook’s Last Call are highly crafted, without an unneeded word or a scene that does not contribute to the whole, with actions, objects and dialogue that sting with significance.”—Martin Naparsteck, Salt Lake Tribune
Rain Taxi - Dustin Michael

Quizzically touching and genuine, Cook invites us to enjoy whatever happiness we find, just as his ever-unsuspecting characters do. When we put down the book, we consider our own warped and accidental familial connections and wonder for what strange and beautiful misfortune our children’s children might blame us.”—Dustin Michael, Rain Taxi
Library Journal
Cook's debut short story cycle deftly chronicles the often fractious and brutal lives of the Tates of West Texas, who are indelibly scarred when the family matriarch clandestinely boards a bus one morning, never to return. Before Mrs. Tate's departure in 1958, decapitated chickens, a dog butchering her own litter, and other farm violence were routine. Afterward, until 1990, as the children move into adulthood, spousal abuse, dipsomania, and other forms of deviant behavior dominate. But despite the characters' penchant for antisocial behavior, Cook manages to convince the reader to believe that the Tates are capable of high achievement, even nobility. Gloria, for example, leaves behind life as a high school dropout and saloon bar maid to earn a master's degree in art therapy; sister Laura's son, Lee, becomes a successful actor despite his mother's checkered history with men. Although the stories are generally harsh and unforgiving, Cook transforms these attributes into a kind of grace. Recommended for most public libraries.-Kevin Greczek, Ewing, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A remarkably accomplished first collection covers 32 years in the life of a fragmented West Texas family. The first four stories ("Easter Weekend," "Nature's Way," "Gone" and "Thrumming") unfold during a few months in 1958. Laura, 14, has an older sister who has recently eloped; an older brother, and two younger brothers. Her father is away for days at a time working in Amarillo, and her mother is restless in a way only Laura seems to notice. The two family dogs, Fay Wray and her daughter Greta, provide some of the more vivid images, particularly when Greta runs off and comes back badly wounded, then gives birth to a litter: Still wild from her own damage, she shreds them with her teeth. Within weeks, Laura's mother runs off, leaving her children without a backward glance. The rest of the volume follows the damaged siblings as they grow older and have children of their own. The exquisite title story is told from the point of view of older sister Gloria's son Travis, who works with her at a bar called the Blue Moon after her husband and other son have been killed in a car wreck and her daughter is pregnant with a girl who dies at birth. Travis is both tender and tough as he struggles to protect his mother with wisdom beyond his years. In a stunning feat of telescoping, Cook gives us some later years of estrangement and final reconciliation in a matter of a few heartbreaking paragraphs. A few stories ("Texas Moon," "Knock Down, Drag Out") descend into macho country-western sentimentality about men who have lost women through abuse and want them back. But, mostly, Cook is subtle as he illuminates the fragile connections between men and women. A family's tragic trajectory viewed through thekaleidoscope of time in stories that make an immensely satisfying whole. Winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction.
Jean Thompson

“The stories in Last Call are about fractured families, lovers and losers (often one and the same), and coming of age the hard way. Cook writes with ease and naturalness and a wonderful, sorrowful knowledge of human foibles.”—Jean Thompson, author of Who Do You Love and City Boy
Robert Boswell

“The stories in Last Call are so entertaining it seems almost unfair that they also resonate powerfully long after you’ve put down the book. K. L. Cook has whopping gifts, and this is a splendid book.”—Robert Boswell, author of Century’s Son
Ron Carlson

"K. L. Cook starts with the pungent inventory of country western songs but lights it all, even his honky-tonks, fried food, downed trees, sick dogs, and rain, with a new understanding of men and women. These are rich stories by an exciting new voice."—Ron Carlson, author of A Kind of Flying
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803271715
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2013
  • Series: Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

K. L. Cook is the author of two other award-winning books of fiction, The Girl from Charnelle and Love Songs for the Quarantined. He teaches creative writing and literature at Prescott College and teaches in the MFA Writing Program at Spalding University.

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Table of Contents

Easter weekend 3
Nature's way 25
Gone 41
Thrumming 53
Texas moon 71
Last call 101
Knock down, drag out 129
Costa Rica 149
Breaking glass 163
Marty 173
Pool boy 193
Penance 223
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