Photographs

House of Coates by Brad Zellar (with Photographs by Alec Soth)

House of Coates by Brad Zellar (with Photographs by Alec Soth)

I can't say exactly what House of Coates is good at, but it’s very good at something. Part of it, to be a bit evasive, is simply the feeling that it’s stirring up some very specific emotion deep inside me, but I can never quite put my finger on it. That, by itself, keeps me thinking. It’s not the kind of book that stirs up a bunch of different thoughts and emotions, letting them collide and splash out, luminous on the surface of the page. This book is more cavernous, subterranean, and it harps on pretty much that one feeling, albeit in many subtly shifting shades. This isn’t quite right, but it’s something like loneliness. But with a seedy flavor, a weatherworn feel, both angrier and more subdued, totally frank and intimate, but also silent and empty. What’s truly amazing about this book, having just described it in such terms, is that it strikes some very familiar chord without seeming cliché or archetypal or borrowed. It’s not noir, for example. It’s not Dostoevsky, either. Sure, it’s about a broken man, Lester, a loner, a depressive misanthrope, but, despite all this, the book avoids categorization very well. Perhaps this isn’t necessarily a virtue in itself, but I think it’s symptomatic of a certain virtue—perhaps the virtue: that it makes the familiar seem like it’s never been said before.

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