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One of The Millions and BuzzFeed’s Most Anticipated Books
A spectacularly inventive debut novel that reinvents the tall tale for our times—“Cuyahoga defies all modest description…[it] is ten feet tall if it’s an inch, and it’s a ramshackle joy from start to finish” (Brian Phillips, author of Impossible Owls).
Big Son is a spirit of the times—the times being 1837. Behind his broad shoulders, shiny hair, and church-organ laugh, Big Son practically made Ohio City all by himself. The feats of this proto-superhero have earned him wonder and whiskey toasts but very little in the way of fortune. And without money, Big cannot become an honest husband to his beloved Cloe (who may or may not want to be his wife, honestly).
In pursuit of a steady wage, our hero hits the (dirt) streets of Ohio City and Cleveland, the twin towns racing to become the first great metropolis of the West. Their rivalry reaches a boil over the building of a bridge across the Cuyahoga River—and Big stumbles right into the kettle. The resulting misadventures involve elderly terrorists, infrastructure collapse, steamboat races, wild pigs, and multiple ruined weddings.
Narrating this “deliriously fun” (Brian Phillips) tale is Medium Son—known as Meed—apprentice coffin maker, almanac author, orphan, and the younger brother of Big. Meed finds himself swept up in the action, and he is forced to choose between brotherly love and his own ambitions. His uncanny voice—plain but profound, colloquial but surprisingly poetic—elevates a slapstick frontier tale into a screwball origin myth for the Rust Belt.
In Cuyahoga, tragedy and farce jumble together in a riotously original voice. Evoking the Greek classics and the Bible alongside nods to Looney Tunes, Charles Portis, and Flannery O’Connor, Pete Beatty has written a rollicking revisionist (mid)Western with universal themes of family and fate—an old, weird America that feels brand new.
About the Author
Pete Beatty is a Cleveland-area native. He has taught writing at Kent State University and the University of Alabama. He currently works at the University of Alabama Press. He lives with his wife in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Cuyahoga is his first novel.
"A hilarious and moving exploration of family, home, and fate ... you won't read anything else like it this year.”
—Buzzfeed most anticipated
"A boisterous adventure."
—The Millions, most anticipated
“An improbable, downright preposterous yarn ably spun and a great entertainment for a time in need of laughter.”
—Kirkus, starred review
“Cuyahoga defies all modest description: It’s deliriously fun to read: nonstop laughs, pages that whiz by, and a style that seems to gather up and beautify an entire history of American bullshit artistry... Cuyahoga is ten feet tall if it's an inch, and it's a ramshackle joy from start to finish.”
—Brian Phillips, author of Impossible Owls
“Pete Beatty’s glorious Cuyahoga is a booming hymn of history, a praisesong both somber and funny…This unlikely, beautiful novel sings with a heart as big as its subject, and with sentences that demand your complete and total attention.” –Jessica Anthony, author of Enter the Aardvark
“A work that manages to simultaneously deconstruct the tall tale while igniting its evolution…Beatty expertly bridges the gap between larger than life exploits and the molecular moments that make up human existence and significance."
—Sergio de la Pava, author of A Naked Singularity and Lost Empress
“As comically genius as a Coen Brothers film; with narrative skill and voice as singular as Faulkner... Page by page, I felt like the top of my head had blown off: even the most seemingly thrown-away lines left me astonished at their efficiency and beauty.”
—Natalie Jenner, author of The Jane Austen Society
“…Cuyahoga is a steroidal frontier romp of whiskey and vernacular, a hundred boisterous souls fumbling to make their city a whole, and one humongous romance. In his rousing debut, Beatty has handed Cleveland a tall tale equal to its own ragged, enormous truth.”
—David Giffels, author of Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America
“A great big American bouncy castle of a book—strange, exhilarating, hilarious and alive—and every sentence so perfect! An absolute delight.”
—Ben Loory, author of Tales of Falling and Flying
“…Cuyahoga is a singular feat of language and energized inventive storytelling. In Big Son, I met a mythic American hero, and in his brother Meed, a gifted, indelible raconteur… This marvelous tragicomic tale impressed upon my head and heart—twin joys.”
—Mitchell S. Jackson, author of Survival Math and The Residue Years