Buy Me Love

Red Hen Press, 2021

In Brooklyn, New York, 2005, Ellen Portinari buys a lottery ticket on a whim. Not long after, she realizes she’s won a hundred-million-dollar jackpot. With a month to redeem the ticket, she tells no one but her alcoholic brother—a talented composer whose girlfriend has died in a terrorist attack abroad—about her preposterous good luck.

As the clock ticks, Ellen caroms from incredulity to giddiness to dread as she tries to reckon with the potential consequences of her win. She becomes unexpectedly involved with a man and boy she’s met at her local gym. While she grapples with the burden of secret-keeping and the tug of a new intimacy, a Brooklyn street artist named Blair Talpa is contending with her own challenges: a missing brother, an urge to make art that will “derange orbits,” and a lack of money.

En route to redeem the lottery ticket, Ellen finds her prospects entwining by chance with Blair’s—which allows Ellen to reimagine luck’s relation to loss, and the reader to revel in surprise.


Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss

Catapult Books, 2017

“[A] splendid and subtle memoir in essays”—The New York Times Book Review

“In her new memoir-in-essays, Guesswork, Martha Cooley explores the issues of loss and grief. Using as lenses Italy, the deaths of friends, and the nature of responsibility and love toward her aging parents, she has written a lovely, thoughtful book, full of wisdom and caritas.” —Roxana Robinson, author of Sparta

“Through evocative imagery and invocations of the poetry of Eliot, Dickinson and Whitman, she reminds us that art can bring solace and clarity to the greatest pain.” —Wall Street Journal

Having lost eight friends in ten years, Cooley retreats to a tiny medieval village in Italy with her husband to recover from la strage, or “the massacre.” There, in this sun­drenched paradise where bumblebees nest in the ancient cemetery and stray cats curl up on her bed, she examines what we all must confront one day, mortality. How do we grieve? How do we go on drinking our morning coffee, loving our life partners, stumbling though a world of such confusing, exquisite beauty?

Linking the essays is Cooley’s escalating understanding of another, more painful loss on the way, that of her ailing mother back in the States. Blind since Cooley’s childhood, her mother relies on dry wit to ward off pity. There seems no way for the two of them to discuss her impending death. But somehow, by the end, Cooley finds the words—each one graceful and wrenching.

Part memoir, part loving goodbye to an unconventional parent, Guesswork transforms a year in a pastoral hill town into a fierce examination of life, love, death, and, ultimately, release.

Time Ages in a Hurry

A translation of Antonio Tabucchi’s Il Tempo Invecchia in Fretta, with Antonio Romani

Archipelago Books, 2015

“A pensive, beautifully written meditation on personhood and nationhood in the new age of European unity … many of the characters in this joined collection—something more than short stories but not quite a novel—are stateless and uprooted; they come from somewhere else, and they’re never quite at home where they are … A pleasure … for fans of modern European literature.” Kirkus Reviews

“There is in Tabucchi’s stories the touch of the true magician, who astonishes us by never trying too hard for his subtle, elusive and remarkable effects.” –The San Francisco Examiner

“Tabucchi’s work has an almost palpable sympathy for the oppressed.” — The New York Times

“As with all fine writers, it is remarkable how the same themes surface effortlessly in Tabucchi’s work even when the material is quite new. . . In particular there is an engaging dialogue between two Italians under sunshades on a Croatian beach: a sick man in his forties and a precocious young girl. Gradually, it emerges that neither was born in Italy: the girl, unsurprisingly called Isabel, is from Peru while the man was born “in a country that’s no longer on any maps”; yet both culturally are entirely Italian. The man, an invalided soldier, is dying of uranium poisoning while the girl is facing the breakup of her family. Nevertheless the entire conversation unfolds with great charm, playfulness, and decorum in a summery Mediterranean haze. It is a welcome return to Tabucchi at his best.” The New York Review of Books

Thirty-Three Swoons

Little, Brown and Company, 2005

Cooley delivers a craftily plotted, multilayered Manhattan adventure involving the incongruous intersection between an American perfumer and the Russian theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold. In 1999, middle-aged Camilla Archer co-owns, with her ex-husband, a West Village theater accoutrements store and nurtures Danny, the 25-year-old daughter of Camilla’s recently deceased cousin, Eve. Danny’s true father is unknown, and she besieges Camilla—who has her own issues with her deceased perfumer father, Jordan—with inconvenient questions. Backstory: Camilla’s mother died while giving birth, and the infant Camilla was brought to New York to live with Eve’s parents. Eventually, Eve fell in love with her uncle Jordan, to devastating results. Meanwhile, a witty interloper narrator, who calls himself Meyerhold’s doppelgänger, recounts the strange, brief encounter between Jordan and the Russian director Meyerhold in the 1920s. This narrator is a kind of dream-meister, who urged Meyerhold on a course of denial with his Soviet interrogators, to no avail, and stages Camilla’s dreams about her father, whom she hasn’t truly let go. Cooley demonstrates a solid grasp of the making of a perfume industry “nose,” as well as the hip insouciance of the longtime Manhattanite. The narrative is set up as layers of theatrical contrivance, and the Meyerhold slant lends a compelling artifice to this quirky production.”Publisher’s Weekly

With the assurance, complexity, and depth of a work by Bulgakov, DeLillo, or Poe, Martha Cooley’s extraordinary second novel is further evidence that she is one of the most gifted writers at work today.

The Archivist

Little, Brown and Company, 1998

Cooley is an accomplished stylist–there’s scarcely a graceless or unintelligent sentence in the book–and a subtle chronicler of the inner life. She has given us something valuable and rare–a thoughtful and well-written first novel, suffused with intellectual and moral integrity. The New York Times Book Review, Brian Morton

Her suave plotting displays many surprises, and her work exhibits that rarest of literary qualities nowadays, authentic moral resonance. The Boston Globe, Robert Taylor

In this engrossing, ambitious debut about love art, and insanity, university archivist Matt Lane-whose poet wife committed suicide decades ago-views his library as a haven from human relationships. Though his friendship with gifted poetry grad student Roberta Spire reawakens some long-buried emotions, Matt refuses her repeated requests: to read love letter composed by T.S. Eliot to friend Emily Hale during the years Eliot abandoned his mentally ill wife. Cooley brilliantly employs Eliot’s poetry and troubled biography as a window into Matt’s tragic past-and as a catalysts for his final, surprising redemption. Rarely has a novel centering on the life of the mind felt so passionate. Entertainment Weekly

A sophisticated and compelling debut–about libraries though without a particle of dust, and with passion galore though about inability to love. Matthias Lane has been bookish all his life and may not seem like much to write about–a buttoned-up man in his 60s, chief archivist of rare books and manuscripts in a university library. But when a grad student named Roberta Spire asks to see T.S. Eliot’s letters to his passionate but unrequited lover Emily Hale, a set of associations is let loose that will reveal the painful truth (and deceit) of Matt’s past life and the painful truth as well of a great sweep of the 20th century. Though 30 years his junior, Roberta reminds Matt of his own dead wife, Judith–who was also beautiful, also passionate, and also a poet. There are other parallels between Roberta and Judith–both had been deceived, in one way or another, about their own past, their parents’ past, and their own Jewishness. And both, in different ways, were connected with the fate of the Jews in WWII Europe. Judith, in fact, in the years after the war, grew so obsessed by the emerging details of the Holocaust–and by people’s having stood by and done nothing–that she became unhinged and was committed by Matt to an institution (just as Eliot had earlier committed his own wife Vivienne), where a fate awaited her that will grip any reader and that will haunt the self-blaming Matt forever. Roberta’s appearance causes him to revisit that past, revisit–and revise–his own guilt, and suffer again both the intensity of his love for the doomed Judith and the terrible, fear-based inadequacy of it. What sounds like an entirely dour tale takes wings in Cooley’s hands, is enlivened by her eye for character, detail, place, period, every small human nuance–and by her perfect, apt quotations from Eliot’s poems. A superlative, serious, gripping literary treasure.Kirkus Reviews