Postcards From the Margins: A Review of Brad Zellar’s “House of Coates”

House of Coates, a novel by my friend Brad Zellar
House of Coates, a novel by my friend Brad Zellar

Here’s the truth: This is my first-ever book review. Here’s another truth: Brad Zellar‘s House of Coates, recently published in paperback by the fine people at Coffee House Press, doesn’t need my thumbs-up when it already has all of these, and more:
Star Tribune, Oct 4, 2014
Kirkus Reviews, October 14, 2104
MPR News, Mar 23, 2103 (earlier limited print edition with Little Brown Mushroom)
Tweeted by @tejucole, in May 2014: Intense and necessary. This one’s not for hearsay. Read it.

I read it. A few times. At 16,000 words, it’s a short novel. In fact, it’s even a short novella. But none of that matters because the words are Brad Zellar’s. (Do yourself a favor and read more of them in his blog, Your Man For Fun in Rapidan.)

Lester B. Morrison, Brad’s protagonist in House of Coates, is a lost and broken man. He lives out of his car and sometimes in run-down rooming houses near a refinery along Hwy 52 in Minnesota. But “Every house is a halfway house. Every adult is a vulnerable adult. Everyone who lives with or among other people is a codependent. Everybody’s some kind of junkie. Every dream has a giant eraser poised above it, just waiting to do its job. And every truly lost man knows exactly where he is.”

See what I mean about word count?

“Lester would contend that the Travel Plaza was as inspired and visually arresting as any museum installation in America. Every time he went in there he found something that almost made him feel as if he was living in an age of wonders.”


And how about this? Lester meets a woman with an odd tattoo. It says, “HARPAZO.” Lester drives 30 miles to the nearest library to look up the word “harpazo” on the internet. Long story short:
Oh, fuck, Lester thought, This is about religion.”

And then there are the photos. Taken by Lester B. Morrison himself, or maybe Alec Soth. It’s up to you to decide. At least half include snow: dirty snow, snow inside hotel rooms, snow outside hotel rooms, dogs in snow, a bear in snow?, chunks of snow, fields of snow, trucks in snow, a deer carcass hung on a tree in snow, a country church beautifully out of focus…in snow.

Maybe Minnesotans won’t see Lester right away, but they’ll start to get it with the snow. And by the end of House of Coates my bet is even if you don’t live in Minnesota you’ll start to see Lester.

“They went into the church and into a little office heaped with books. The priest dug around on his desk and came up with a calendar. Lester pulled up a chair and looked at the images of the bloody and suffering Christ that were everywhere on the walls. He noticed a copy of Borges’s Ficciones on a shelf, leaning against an edition of Waiting for Godot. He felt as if he’d come to the right man, and he was prepared to be swept away.”

I think you’ll be swept away by House of Coates, and also by the people at our very own Coffee House Press, who took a chance on a book others may have found unacceptably unpackage-able. Best-ever picture book for adults? Starkly beautiful, illustrated prose poem? Photograph-enhanced story about an outsider looking for a way in? Thanks to Coffee House Press, each reader can be swept away, uniquely.






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