I left Kentucky in the fall of 1999. For 32 years, the state and its people were pretty much all I’d known.
Author Lee Cole was also born in Western Kentucky, about 90 miles downriver near Paducah. He knows well the people, the places, the politics that make up a state I still hold dear. His debut novel, Groundskeeping, is a testament to that.
LEE COLE was born and grew up in western Kentucky, graduating from Lone Oak High School.
A recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he now lives in New York.
Earlier this month, I blazed through Groundskeeping, which was released March 1, 2022. It’s fine, smooth writing inhabited by characters you’ll want to share a beer with or leave out in the cold on the back step on a wet winter morning. All necessary elements of a good story.
The protagonist in the story is a 28-year-old aspiring writer named Owen Callahan, who works as a groundskeeper at the fictional Ashby College and lives in the basement of his grandfather’s home. There is a budding relationship with Alma, a Bosnian-Muslim immigrant.
Louisville features prominently in the novel as well as portions of Western Kentucky. The 2016 election serves as a backdrop and Groundskeeping tells well the political division between family members that still remains today.
Maybe you call Groundskeeping a love story from a slightly different point of view. While there is Owen’s pursuit of Alma, really the love story may be all about Owen finding peace with the people and place he calls home.
As Cole told the Louisville Courier-Journal in an interview published in March 2022, there have been many stories told of characters who long to leave Kentucky, experience the “real world” outside and return home later with a renewed appreciation for the state.
“In other words, this theme of longing to go and at the same time feeling drawn homeward has a long history in Kentucky (and Southern) literature,” Cole said.
I think there are plenty of Kentuckian Expats who share that love/hate relationship with the state. While there, we can’t wait to leave. And once away, we’re consumed with homesickness.
Hopefully, the thing that remains is empathy.