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Wednesday, June 21st, 2006
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Now You See It...: Stories from Cokesville, Pa


The Unbearable Lightness of Cokesville

A review by Anna Godbersen

Now You See It..., the collection of linked stories by Bathseba Monk, a coal-and-steel country prodigal daughter, reads like a loosely bound collection of postcards, missives created from some less earth-bound material than paper and ink. These tales are so tidy and subtle it seems they might float away, which is curious because the world they orbit is one in which a man who falls into a vat of molten metal on the job will be replaced, in his funeral casket, by an ingot that weighs what his body did in life. Gratis, from the steel company. Or, in the case of Bruno Gojuk, an ingot that, at a hundred and seventy five pounds, weighs slightly less than he did at the end of his life-closer to what he weighed thirty years ago or more, when he first filled out an application to work at the steel plant. This is Cokesville, whose inhabitants have not only "waked steel ingots," but, over the years, "stood reverently in front of hunks of coal when mines collapsed on miners and the mines were sealed before they could retrieve the bodies." It is a town filled with guilt trips from the union, teenage necking, and the Ks and Zs of Polish surnames. This is a heavy world from which the bright and young yearn to escape, chief among them Annie Kusiak, Monk's protagonist of sorts, whose twin desires to find her own identity and success as a writer lead her on a serendipitous sad-funny path that includes flirtations with suicide, Judaism and cowgirl-hood. Like the other characters who try to walk out, disappear entirely or put themselves up in the stars (i.e. Tess Randall, nee Theresa Gojuk, about to be photographed in Vanity Fair), Annie keeps circling Cokesville warily. Now You See It... is a sublime and deadpan debut that cocks an eyebrow and reminds us that it is never a light thing, this leaving home, though we all must try.

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