“Lydia Peelle’s lovely, fluid voice lures you into a world full of heartbreak and devastation.... [Peelle] has the makings of a writer who defies labels and creates her own categories.”
-New York Times Book Review
"A collection of stories so artfully constructed and deeply imagined they read like classics. It marks the beginning of what will surely be a long and beautiful career."
"[The stories] read like fully formed classics, as if Bob Dylan was rewriting the stories of Alice Munro. These are eight clear and precise gems, deeply rooted in Southern soil, and alive with every pore to heartbreak and possibility."
-Louisville Courier Journal
"Lydia Peelle offers us fresh insight into the meaning of what is feral and what is tame."
With this first book of fiction, a gifted young writer brings together eight superbly crafted stories that peer deeply into the human heart, exploring lives derailed by the loss of a vital connection to the land and to the natural world of which they are a part.
"Mule Killers" evokes the end of an era and of a grandfather's dreams when he decides to replace animal power on his farm with tractors. Two restless young girls in "Sweethearts of the Rodeo" live out their last summer of innocence, riding ponies recklessly and spying on their boss and the wealthy women who visit him. In "Phantom Pain," the Tennessee woods are a sliver of what they once were, men now hunt with GPS and cell phones, and the rumor of a dangerous panther on the loose stirs up a small town.
An unexpected vision of the beauty and mystery of life redeems the darkest moments in this stellar debut collection, a book that readers will want to read and reread.
"Dark and delightful and achingly authentic, this is an exquisite story of love, war, sex, death, and mules. I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful book."
- Eleanor Henderson
"The Midnight Cool is the miraculous, rare novel that is as compulsively readable as it is beautifully written."
“Fully imagined... affecting... The Midnight Cool is undergirded by the considerable agility and charm of Peelle’s voice, and by her deeply attuned love of nature.”
-New York Times
“A richly textured first novel…The skillfully crafted characters are rendered with acute psychological insight into the moral dilemmas that shape one’s humanity and sense of right and wrong. The propulsive narrative, fueled by poetic prose, is made more powerful by the heart-wrenching, quietly heroic lives eked out in the margins of history.”
“Peelle is a writer to watch. She deftly recounts the surprisingly fascinating history of mules, who bore the brunt of American labor during the period and whose resiliency and strength made them key players in the war effort, while also giving us a rich, satisfying novel, full of memorable characters grappling with love, loyalty, identity and the struggle to build something that lasts in a rapidly changing world."
The Whiting Award winning author of the story collection Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing delivers her enchanting debut novel, set in 1916 Tennessee: a rich and rewarding tale of two flawed yet endearing grifters who pursue women, wealth, and a surprisingly valuable commodity for the troops in Europe mules.
A middle-aged Irish immigrant, Billy has a gift for illusion making damaged objects look new. His companion, Charles, the smooth-tongued teenage son of a prostitute, is a natural salesman, just like the mythical father he's never met. Longtime horse traders and partners, they ve recently turned their talents to trading mules. But in the summer of 1916, these seasoned grifters skilled in the art of the underhanded deal have just been swindled themselves. They re saddled with the one thing they may not be able to unload: a gorgeous, murderous black mare named The Midnight Cool.
Charles should have listened to Catherine, the beautiful, rebellious daughter of Leland Hatcher, the richest man in Richfield, Tennessee, and the former owner of The Midnight Cool. The horse would be worth a fortune if she weren't a verified man-killer who attacks on sight. Charles and Billy are rooted in this muggy town until they can miraculously retrain their recalcitrant mare, and in the shadow of the growing inevitability of war, their bond begins to fray. Falling in love with Catherine and under the spell of the deceitful, wealthy Leland, the vision of himself he d like to be Charles pulls away from the older man.
Despite their growing distance, Billy and Charles find their business thriving when the war in Europe pushes the demand for mules sky-high and the United States enters the fight. But when a trade goes terribly wrong, Charles is forced to reevaluate his allegiance to his country, the moral implications of his lifestyle, his relationship with Catherine, and, ultimately, his mysterious and surprisingly deep connection to Billy.
Populated by spirited, memorable characters, The Midnight Cool is a startlingly profound tale of aspiration, loyalty, and love and the eternal search for something lasting in a transitory world.