What happens after tragedy? Not directly after, but after the tragedy has struck and reverberated, and now the remaining friends and family are looked back at rather than looked after – “tragic, wasn’t it…” After news and media appearances no longer punctuate the chaos, after the victim’s loved ones are no longer forced to funnel their anguish into something that seemed productive. After the police are done calling around, and that beacon of hope is extinguished. After the local community has rushed around, and the home-cooked sympathy dinners have run out.
After the overwhelming buzz of a terrible accident or atrocity, those affected are quietly granted their privacy back, and it’s rare anyone else can know what happens to them next, really. This might be the time the gossip starts – after the shock and pity subsides, a neighbour might now dare to mention hearing raised voices at night, her routine of bringing a few too many bottles out to the recycling when she thought nobody would see.
This period of “after” is the subject of Colin Winnette’s novella, Coyote. A couple’s young daughter has vanished and interest in their case is painfully running out. The mother insists on chasing further media appeals to find her, and the brouhaha of TV talk shows contrasts the wasteland surrounding their isolated home. Coyotes wander this barren rural setting, and it wouldn’t be out of place in True Detective’s first season. Here is where we descend with the couple into madness – obsession and hatred and loneliness. Our narrator, the child’s mother, refers exclusively to her spouse as “her father”, and we see two people entirely unwilling to live life without what’s missing, or to relate to the world without their child.
While it’s impossible not to pity them, we’re also given the vantage point of the doubting community; as we read Winnette’s short bursts of chapters, we pick up clues that inevitably spur us on to judge the couple. They attack each other and their environment physically and emotionally, and some familiar tropes of the American rural tradition are examined in quickfire rounds – domestic violence, eerie crime, unresolved loss. Our sympathy is blurred as our narrator’s focus is too; she soon stops mourning so precisely for her child, and rambles out into the dangerous waters of her marriage. We watch it disintegrate in real time as she looks back on its tenuous beginnings.
The brevity of the book adds to the sadness of the whole story; we see them rush blindly towards destruction, like on some horrible rollercoaster with no let-up to pause on. Coyote is under 100 pages, and will leave you shook. Winnette is a young writer to watch – No Exit also brought out his bounty hunter Western, Haints Stay, earlier this year and the two books have striking covers that share theme – and this urgent, unforgettable novella is the perfect introduction.
Coyote is published 28 July by No Exit
Post by Heather
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