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The Coast of Good Intentions Paperback – April 29, 1998

17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Michael Byers grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and the stories in The Coast of Good Intentions evoke that region's cloudy and caffeinated landscape with impressive ease. He gives each location the particularity of a fingerprint: "The alders were in full leaf," Byers writes in a typical bit of Sensurround prose, "and the cranberry bog was a deep russet now in the middle of the summer. Down at the end of the road another little house sat, abandoned, its door gaping open as if to breathe, a tree growing through the windows. Somewhere we could hear a tractor. The ocean was a mile away, across the highway, invisible, but I could smell it, the salty air." Yet the author never indulges in merely bucolic scene-painting. Instead, he explores how the landscape shapes his characters, who seem alternately depressed and comforted by the perpetual sight of thunderheads "piling themselves against the Olympics, like gray balloons against a ceiling." What's more, Byers has a wonderful touch when it come to rendering the middle ground of happiness. In stories like "Shipmates Down Under" and "In Spain, One Thousand and Three," his protagonists seem to stagger under their allotments of disappointment--and remain surprisingly and persuasively alive to possibility. This would be a impressive debut for a late-blooming, middle-aged master. Coming from a 28-year-old, it's an astonishing performance, which makes the word precocious sound limp and irrelevant.

From Booklist

In the first sentence of the first story of this astonishing debut collection, Byers asserts, almost as a statement of faith, that our lives are slowly improving. The stories--set in the Pacific Northwest and dealing with men and women, young and old, in a variety of occupations and circumstances--mostly bear out that assertion. Of course, the damaged lives that Byers describes have plenty of room for improvement. A programmer of computer games cannot escape the maze of his own debilitating emotions following the death of his wife. A geology teacher can't let loose of the wife who deserted him. A young girl, abandoned by her mother, won't even try to connect with her new acquaintances. Yet all of these people progress slowly, haltingly, through small but authentic epiphanies, toward better lives, or at least toward an appreciation and acceptance of the lives they have. These powerfully affecting stories are wise and true, and they should not be missed. Dennis Dodge

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 163 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; First Edition edition (April 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395891701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395891704
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,209,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Byers' new novel about the discovery of Pluto, Percival's Planet, has been called "a towering achievement" by the Times of London. His first book, The Coast of Good Intentions, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, won the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and garnered a Whiting Writer's Award. Long for This World won the annual fiction prize from Friends of American Writers and was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Both were New York Times Notable Books.

Byers' fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards; his nonfiction has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and elsewhere. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, he teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan.

Percival's Planet is published by Picador UK as The Unfixed Stars.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
I bought this collection because Michael Byers was teaching my writing workshop at Oberlin College and I thought I should read his work while he was reading mine. Though I already had great respect for him as a teacher, I now have great respect for him as a writer. The prose is beautifully crafted and his characters are real and engaging. It's a cathartic read and I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks the art of the sentence is dead.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful collection of short fiction, comparable, I think, to Ford's Rock Springs. There is a depth to this author's writing that is surprising from a person his age. Byers should be around for a long time and we have much to cherish for that.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David on August 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
One of the most astonishing debuts I can remember, Michael Byers' book is precisely, deftly observed and brilliantly unfolded. I find it amazing that a couple of other reviewers have called the stories cliched or tedious: I read a lot of fiction, and I can't remember the last time I encountered a new writer whose work seemed so powerful. Byers is wise beyond his years. Read this book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Luiz on May 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
When this collection came out, much was made of the fact that Michael Byers was just 28. It wasn't just the fact that a writer so young could demonstrate such talent, but also that he could write so movingly and insightfully about older characters trying to make sense of their lives after retirement or in the wake of a divorce after a decades-long marriage. At 50, I'm not quite there yet, but I can say I was equally impressed with how well he captured the mindset of people well past his age when he wrote this.

Each of these stories reads like a novel - there's no attempt at post-modern techniques or any sort of artsy short-story trickery. There's plenty of subtext in each story, but there's also enough on the surface that you won't have to scratch your head after finishing a piece and ask, "What the heck was that about?" Each piece simply delivers solid story-telling, good characters, an interesting premise that gives us a chance to see how they act under pressure, and effective clean writing that lets the story unfold on its own. The final three stories have a clever thematic link about the power and impact of illusions.

The rain, mountains, and connections to the ocean in coastal towns provide a consistent visual setting for the pieces, all of which are set in the Pacific Northwest.

The 8 stories in the collection are:

1. Settled on the Cranberry Coast - 15 pp - A retired schoolteacher begins to work as a carpenter and is reunited with his high school crush when she hires him to restore her house. A park ranger now, she's raising the grandchild her daughter abandoned. As he gets closer to them both, he welcomes the opportunities for a second chapter to his life.

2.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. Willett on June 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
One reviewer called these stories "wise, beautiful, and necessary" and I think that's right (Baxter). Here is a quote from the first story of the collection, "Settled on the Cranberry Coast," "I was drunk but not drunk enough to say what I wanted, that we don't live our lives so much as come to them, as different people and things collect mysteriously around us" (Byers 13). To my ear, Byers has a keen and compassionate wisdom about life and people, but that his aesthetic judgment wants something, especially in the endings to the stories, which seem to strain for the iconic, beautiful, and quaint in a way that the stories themselves fall into, without effort. Byers is a Seattle native and who, in his late twenties, is already winning some significant literary prizes. After publishing this collection, his first book, he went to teach at Stanford. They're all based in Seattle, or its surrounding cities, which would endear the collection to me even if the writing were not so good as it is.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By tlemire@cnc.com on March 19, 1998
Format: Paperback
"This I know: our lives in these towns are slowly improving": so begins Michael Byers's book of stories of seaside middle-class folk traveling and exploring their way through their misty days. The improvement is indeed slow, as characters feel their way to a deeper relationship to life, to people, to passion. Byers replicates authentic experience with a skilled eye for detail. Each story presents a captivating drama of human emotion that never delves into melodrama. So many short stories claim to explore "the ordinary" but wind up mired in the mundane, the bland, the mediocre; Byers's stories are richer, yet always approachable. An interesting collection of stories that provoke thought and reflection upon completion.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
I have read an advance copy of this book, and I cannot find enough superlatives to describe it. Byers employs an understatement that is both simple and profound. His hands-off storytelling puts the reader in the middle of the emotional and psychological dramas that he creates. His characters are real, and we feel their thoughts as if they were our own.
Byers' star is undoubtedly on the rise. This debut is only the beginning of a long and promising writing career.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Feldman (feldman@frozenlaw.com) on December 4, 1998
Format: Paperback
Byers writes with remarkable sensitivity and perception. He takes you into the lives,...indeed, the souls....of his characters. His writing style is smooth and flowing,....a perfect bok for an fternoon in front of a fireplace. The best short stories I've read since Tina Brown took over the New Yorker.
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