June 26, 2022
I liked this book from the first sentence. Groundskeeping is an authentic and smart novel in the voice of a man in his late 20s, returning home because things haven’t gone his way. He is returning to a family he still relies on more than he wants to, while at the same time resisting fitting back into the picture of how his family sees him.
It’s the same with the place he grew up in. He spread his wings and found out about who he is beyond that place, and yet here he is. And that is reflected in what Owen says to Alma, who he meets at a party at the beginning of the novel. “I’ve always had the same predicament. When I’m home, in Kentucky, all I want is to leave. When I’m away, I’m homesick for a place that never was.”
Owen wants to write, even though right now he has landed a groundskeeping job that pays the bills and allows him to do one creative writing class at the university where he works.
He later discovers that Alma is the current writer in residence at the university. There is a status imbalance and other tricky ground to negotiate to arrive at the simple enjoyment of reading at each end of the same couch. Being with Alma gives him the space to grow into his real identity, by being able to talk to someone else about books, and to share his unique way of thinking and seeing the world.
But even when they are so happy to be together, competition grows up between them, as Owen starts to find his feet as a writer. The differences in their family backgrounds also puts their connectedness to the test.
On the back cover of the novel, Lily King describes it as “a smart, funny, exhilarating debut about that time in life when you are clawing your way to a future that feels murky and impossible to reach.”
This novel is a vivid reminder of how complicated it is to be in your late 20s, and what a huge impact the choices made at this time will have on the future shape of your life.