A raw and remarkable debut story collection concerning substance abuse, societal alienation, and doomed romance from a writer whose work has appeared in prestigious literary journals including The Paris Review.
An amusement park employee overdoses after eating the gel of a fentanyl patch. Two homeless men discover the body of a drowned woman. A sister encounters a dangerous stranger while driving her brother to rehab. Ex-lovers seek to rekindle their relationship with the aid of an earthquake.
In the nine masterful stories that comprise Thrillville, USA, debut author Taylor Koekkoek depicts Americans living on the margins of society, seeking escape from isolation and underemployment in drugs, booze, and self-destructive relationships. While the action is set largely in the rural Pacific Northwest, the characters’ malaise and disaffectedness is endemic of the country as a whole. The title takes its name from the aforementioned amusement park, but Thrillville is as much a state of mind as an actual place—a sardonic commentary on contemporary America consumed by opioid addiction, social media obsession, wealth inequality and political polarization.
Yet as haunting as these stories are, they are not hopeless. Gorgeously written, they share a transcendental quality—an acknowledgment of and appreciation for the beauty in all things, even the most profane and grotesque.
Taylor Koekkoek received his MFA from Johns Hopkins University and was a Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His work has been supported by the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and Oregon Literary Arts, and has appeared in The Paris Review, Tin House, Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Portland, Oregon.
"These nine stories capture Americans at society's margins." —The New York Times
“Desperate situations, mordant humor, and a wonderfully skewed stance introduce characters who are blessedly without self-pity. A distinctive new voice that avoids the predictable, and takes a reader somewhere so much better.” —Amy Hempel
"Koekkoek treats the reader to moving, sometimes painful tales of calamity and waywardness in perfectly tuned, gaspingly funny prose that is itself a joy and consolation. Thrillville is a wondrous debut." —Wells Tower, author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
"This is maybe forbidden in blurb-speak but let me address the question on your mind: yes, absolutely, Taylor Koekkoek’s stories are fun to read. Pure fun. Also, beautiful. Are they also Western, teased by that old dream and its torments? And is this our new Oregon Trail, winding up in Thrillville, USA? That, I can’t say. While the lives of Taylor K’s characters may be scrappy and improvised the stories they inhabit are absolutely worked until the art is done saying all that it sees. This isn’t a world that holds still for quiet epiphanies but the strange and brilliant images we encounter along the way remain in the mind’s eye for days, burning as miracles burn, not for heat but illumination." —Charles D’Ambrosio, author of The Dead Fish Museum and Loitering
"A rip-roaring ride. Koekkoek delivers thrills and laughter-inducing shocks of insight via electric prose and some of the most unpredictable characters in literature. Hands down the sharpest sentences I’ve read in years. Thrillville, USA is storytelling at its finest." —Jonathan Escoffery, author of the national bestseller and National Book Award longlist selection If I Survive You
“You that you will not find a better debut collection of stories than Thrillville, USA—not this year, not any year, and probably not for a long time to come. This collection ranks with the best I know, counting backward through the decades. All nine stories are gentle, generous, wry, surprising and fluent. (Imagine Raymond Carver if he’d known more kindness early on, if his enlarging sweetness had been allowed to flower sooner.) Buy this book, in many multiples, and share it out to the people you think the most of. And be grateful the world still makes them like it used to: excellent, and for the ages.” —Michael Byers, Cascadia Daily News