The Girl from Charnelle by P-HarpercollinsPubl


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									The Girl from Charnelle
Author: K. L. Cook

It's 1960 in the Panhandle town of Charnelle, Texas — a year and a half since sixteen-year-old Laura
Tate's mother boarded a bus and mysteriously disappeared. Assuming responsibility for the Tate
household, Laura cares for her father and three brothers and outwardly maintains a sense of calm. But
her balance is upset and the repercussions of her family's struggles are revealed when a chance
encounter with a married man leads Laura into a complicated relationship for which she is unprepared. As
Kennedy battles Nixon for the White House, Laura must navigate complex emotional terrain and choose
whether she, too, will flee Charnelle.A heartfelt portrait of a young woman's reckoning with the paradoxes
of love — eloquent, tender, and heart-wrenching — K. L. Cook's unforgettable debut novel marks the
arrival of a significant new voice in American fiction.

Laura watched the thunderstorm from the living room window. The clouds bloated and darkened, common
in the Panhandle during late afternoons, and then it poured -- a gusty, whipsaw wind driving the rain
sideways against the house. The rain hardened into thick white hail, which soon sheeted the yard. Her
younger brothers, Gene and Rich, joined her at the window, and their mother stopped cooking in the
kitchen and stood behind them, drying her hands on a dish towel.The boys soon tired of the show, but
Laura and her mother continued to stare at the white pellets pouring down -- dumped, it seemed, from a
huge bucket in the clouds. Lightning crinkled the gray sky, and to gauge the distance, Laura counted
slowly until she heard the thunder. One, two, three, four, BOOM! The time between the light and the
sound shortened, and then in an instant the hail stopped, the sky opened up, and a bright beam of
sunshine shone on the street. They squinted.A moment later, simultaneous thunder and a flash of silver
heat cracked in their yard. The house shook as if bulldozed. Rich screamed. Laura was blinded for a few
seconds. Her body vibrated, jangled, and her teeth kept clicking, as if she were sending a signal in
code.Her mother stood in front of the window, frozen, her face cut by the sudden shadows after the light.
Gene led Laura to the couch."Are you okay?" he asked."The . . . the tree," Laura stuttered, "the tree."Her
mother opened the door and went outside. The old oak was split in half, a bright black burn down the
center, the heavy-leaved top branches strewn across the white-pelleted lawn and porch. The ends
touched the door."My God," Mrs. Tate said, shuffling through the melting hail. She placed her hands on
the dark center of the trunk. "It's hot," she said. "It's still hot."Laura moved to the door, the muscles in her
thighs and calves quivering, the joints of her knees still vibrating. Her teeth wouldn't stop clicking. Small
lines of blinking silver crosshatched her vision. The sky darkened again. She and her brothers stood on
the porch, afraid to move into the yard.Their mother touched the trunk, the branches, the leaves, as if
searching for a heartbeat. "So hot," she muttered, "so hot."The next morning, the destroyed oak lay
about the yard like a huge, stricken animal. Mr. Tate and Laura's older brother, Manny, had cleared away
some of the debris that night, but the large job of cutting the heavy branches and uprooting the burned
base of the trunk would take longer and would require special equipment. Leaving for school, they had to
maneuver carefully around the fallen branches and the blackened husk of the split trunk. It was a
mess.Coming home on her bicycle later, Laura rounded the curve, saw the tree, and felt again the
lightning in her body. Faint silver lines again blurred her vision. Her teeth involuntarily clicked. All this
triggered, miraculously, by the presence of the tree.She got off her bike in the front yard and wheeled it
around to the side of the house. The front door was slightly ajar, and she pushed it open."I'm home." No
one answered. "Momma? Rich?"Still no answer, which made her nervous. She went through the kitchen
and opened the kitchen door, expecting them to be in the backyard. But all she saw was Fay, scratching
around the fences."Where's everybody?" she called.Fay trotted over. Laura patted the old dog's coat and
head, careful around the wounds that their younger dog, Greta, had gouged in her face. Fay licked
Laura's wrists and cheek with her bad breath. Inside, on the kitchen table, Laura found the note,...
Author Bio
K. L. Cook
K. L. Cook won the inaugural Prairie Schooner Book Prize for his collection of linked stories, Last Call.
His stories and essays have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Poets & Writers,
Threepenny Review, Shenandoah, Witness, and American Short Fiction. He has won an Arizona
Commission on the Arts fellowship for fiction, the grand prize in the Santa Fe Writers' Project Literary
Arts Series, and residency fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. He
lives in Arizona and teaches at Prescott College and Spalding University's MFA Program in Writing.

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