Writing grief properly is a difficult proposition. Real pathos is about minutiae: about the conservation of words; about the layering of effect and affect; about the subtlety of the external and the wide, broken aching of the inner. Writing rural fiction, too, takes patience and a different understanding of the world than most urban writers ever manage a feel for. Writing about the kind of wide open spaces that tower in slow rolls of cloud and a vastness inside and out–about a sense of space so wide and so lonely it just keeps going forever–and writing it true. Well, that takes something special.
Deborah Coates has done both. And done it with an extraordinary understanding of character, family, and loss. It’s not so very far from Vast to Vastation. And Coates captures both eloquently. And with a highly honed and sparse prose style that one does not often find in a novelist only two books in.
Deep Down follows Coates’s first novel (and the first novel in her ongoing series of which these two books are a part), Wide Open. Both are absolutely gorgeous reads. Coates knows her characters as she knows her landscape, and locus too is a powerful character in both novels. Coates also has a most enviable gift for control and precision in her writing.
And though it follows her first book, Deep Down, is a quieter outing. Her characters are a little hardened in some ways. A little softened in others. Rougher edges here and there, but with the same core of wanting to make the hurting stop, and the rest of the world fall together.
Interestingly, Coates’s writing has, if anything, gotten only more potent with her second novel. Still honed, but sharper. It cuts deeper. And that alone would have made it excellent. But Coates has done something very...