Willem De Kooning’s Paintbrush



“Like the canvases of Willem de Kooning himself, Kerry Lee Powell’s stories are riots of imagery and sensation held together with a keen eye for craft and composition. The book’s rag-tag, rough-and-tumble cast of characters – which includes aging exotic dancers, barflies, boozehounds, and possible gang members – is often struggling, occasionally down-and-out, but always represented with dignity and respect. Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush is an exquisitely written, vibrant, and thoughtful collection that pulses with life, humour, intelligence, and great feeling, one that signals a bold new direction for the Canadian short story.” Rogers Writers’ Trust Jurists.

“The men and women who inhabit Kerry Lee Powell’s vivid and quixotic stories are often grasping the fringe — strippers, bullies, drunks, addicts and outsiders of all ages. Even when her characters are holding it together, their lives are interestingly off-kilter. In the title story, a relationship goes off the rails during a vacation to L.A., when he starts talking in weird voices, she endures a hair-raising roller-coaster ride and he is assaulted in the LAX departure lounge. These 15 stories represent the New Brunswick writer’s first story collection; singly, several of them have been awarded prizes and praise in recent years — and this collection is on the longlist for the 2016 Giller Prize.” The Toronto Star

– 2016 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Jury Lauren B. Davis, Trevor Ferguson, and Pasha Malla

“Powerful…full of dark nostalgia.” Nathan Englander, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Ann Frank

“This is fiction’s ‘unflinching eye’ at its most powerful, the gaze that spies out the heartbreaking cycle of human cruelty and refuses to look away. A reader might buckle under the weight of the world portrayed if it weren’t for the beauty of the prose itself, the imagery that rings on in the subconscious long after the closing line.” Alissa York, author of Fauna and The Naturalist

“Harrowing, whip-smart, both lyrical and tough-as-nails, these stories pack a wallop. With her keen eye and wide-open heart Powell has managed to capture the strange, malevolent undertow that burbles just beneath the surface of contemporary life. And lucky for us, it makes for a breathtaking read.” Michael Christie, author of The Beggar’s Garden and If I Fall, If I Die

“Powell’s stories are mythic, yet full of warmth.” Eliza Robertson, author of Wallflowers

“What the reader will find in Powell’s stories is a deep and abiding care, for language, in the zinging comic exchange that never misses a beat; for imagery, in the clarity that emerges out of a grey background, tough and fragile but impossible to ignore; for all her lost, ragged characters, in their struggle to get back to some misplaced sense of home. These are beautiful stories, they will make you think and they will make you feel and they will always, always reward your attention.” Alexander MacLeod, author of Light Lifting

“Powell writes with the voice of a prophet crying from the wilderness. She writes of liars and losers, frauds and imposters who dream of escape into extremity, escape from life’s artificiality. With a poet’s control over imagery, her painted tableaux explode into sudden, shimmering violence.” Carrie Snyder, author of Girl Runner

An unflinching and masterful collection of award-winning stories, Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush is a career-making debut. Ranging from an island holiday gone wrong to a dive bar on the upswing to a yuppie mother in a pricey subdivision seeing her worst fears come true, these deftly written stories are populated by barkeeps, good men down on their luck, rebellious teens, lonely immigrants, dreamers and realists, fools and quiet heroes. In author Kerry-Lee Powell’s skillful hands, each character, no matter what their choices, is deeply human in their search for connection. Powell holds us in her grasp, exploring with a black humour themes of belonging, the simmering potential for violence and the meaning of art no matter where it is found, and revealing with each story something essential about the way we see the world.

A selection of these stories have won significant awards including the Boston Review fiction contest and the Malahat Review’s Far Horizons award for short fiction. For readers of Lorrie Moore, Denis Johnson and Michael Christie.

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