Last Call

Winner of the 2003 Book Prize in Fiction

About the Book

K. L. Cook’s debut collection of linked stories spans three generations in the life of one West Texas family. Events both tender and tragic lead to a strange and lovely vision of a world stitched together in tenuous ways as the characters struggle to make sense of their lives amid the shifting boundaries of marriage, family, class, and culture.

A series of unusual incidents—a daughter’s elopement, a sobering holiday trip, a vicious attack by the family dog, a lightning strike—provokes a mother of five to abandon her children. An oil rigger, inspired by sun-induced hallucinations, rescues his estranged wife, who doesn’t appreciate his chivalry. In the wake of his father’s and brother’s deaths, a teenage boy finds a precarious solace working with his mother at a country-western bar. A cosmetics salesman schemes to buy Costa Rica and flirts dangerously with mobsters in Las Vegas. A woman fleeing her fourth marriage arrives at a complicated understanding of love and responsibility.

Railroad worker and conman, grieving son and battered wife—these characters explore the limits of family fragility and resilience. Their stories—suggesting unlikely connections between comedy and pathos, cruelty and generosity—promise a hard-won dignity and hope.


You can read an excerpt from Last Call on the University of Nebraska Press website here.


“The stories in Last Call are about fractured families, lovers and losers (often one and the same), and coming of age the hard way. Cook writes with ease and naturalness and a wonderful, sorrowful knowledge of human foibles.”—Jean Thompson, author of Who Do You Love and City Boy

“The stories in Last Call are so entertaining it seems almost unfair that they also resonate powerfully long after you’ve put down the book. K. L. Cook has whopping gifts, and this is a splendid book.”—Robert Boswell, author of Century’s Son

“K. L. Cook starts with the pungent inventory of country western songs but lights it all, even his honky-tonks, fried food, downed trees, sick dogs, and rain, with a new understanding of men and women. These are rich stories by an exciting new voice.”—Ron Carlson, author of A Kind of Flying

“In Cook’s hands, the series of linked stories introducing us to three generations of Tates fairly thrums with keen insight borne of uncommon wisdom and unwavering compassion for his characters. . . . As each of the Tates takes his or her turn in the spotlight, we come to know a family shaken by violence, overcome by sorrow, and most of all, driven by a palpable longing for something or someone always just out of reach. Cook’s debut collection is a breathtakingly haunting and magical tapestry of human emotions.”—Booklist

“A remarkably accomplished first collection covers 32 years in the life of a fragmented West Texas family. . . .Cook is subtle as he illuminates the fragile connections between men and women. A family’s trajectory viewed through a kaleidoscope of time in stories that make an immensely satisfying whole.”—Kirkus (starred review)

“Cook’s debut short story cycle deftly chronicles the often fractious and brutal lives of the Tates of West Texas, who are indelibly scarred when the family matriarch clandestinely boards a bus one morning, never to return. . . . Recommended for most public libraries.”—Library Journal

“In spare, unornamented prose, Cook writes about spare, unornamented people. These are stories about boozers, petty gamblers, con artists and perpetual victims set in honky-tonks, dirt farms, and trailer parks, a world where a good night means making it home with somebody next to you—perhaps even your own spouse—without rolling the car on its roof along the way.”—ForeWord

“Quizzically touching and genuine, Cook invites us to enjoy whatever happiness we find, just as his ever-unsuspecting characters do. When we put down the book, we consider our own warped and accidental familial connections and wonder for what strange and beautiful misfortune our children’s children might blame us.”—Dustin Michael, Rain Taxi

“The dozen interlocking stories in K.L. Cook’s Last Call are highly crafted, without an unneeded word or scene that does not contribute to the whole, with actions objects, and dialogue that sting with significance.”—Martin Naparsteck, Salt Lake Tribune

A deep and haunting book.”—Gabriel Welsch, Harvard Review

“Cook understands the intersection between coincidence and insight, and he demonstrates a flair for picking out those random and nonsensical moments. . . . that, when paired with a narrator’s retrospect, create meaning.”—Nicole Backens, Colorado Review

K. L. Cook

About the Author

K. L. Cook teaches creative writing and literature at Prescott College in Arizona, where he also serves as the associate dean. His fiction, poetry, and essays have been published in journals including the Threepenny Review, American Short Fiction, Witness, and Shenandoah. Last Call is a collection of connected stories focusing on one Texas family–unlucky men and women who drink, fight, and love their way through disaster. While these stories deal with broken relationships and pain, they speak of our capacity to move forward through life’s hardships.Narrated by different characters and set in Texas, Las Vegas, and Costa Rica, these moving stories promise a gritty, hard hope.