tell me who we were
It begins with a drowning.
One day Mr. Arcilla, the romance language teacher at Briarfield, an all-girls boarding school, is found dead at the bottom of Reed Pond. Young and handsome, the object of much fantasy and fascination, he was adored by his students. For Lilith and Romy, Evie and Claire, Nellie and Grace, he was their first love, and their first true loss.
In this extraordinary collection, Kate McQuade explores the ripple effect of one transformative moment on six lives, witnessed at a different point in each girl’s future. Throughout these stories, these bright, imaginative, and ambitious girls mature into women, lose touch and call in favors, achieve success and endure betrayal, marry and divorce, have children and struggle with infertility, abandon husbands and remain loyal to the end.
Lyrical, intimate, and incisive, Tell Me Who We Were explores the inner worlds of girls and women, the relationships we cherish and betray, and the transformations we undergo in the simple act of living.
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“Masterful … The author plumbs the depths of each character’s soul—how in the trajectory of growing older these women can or cannot connect with others as they deal with loss, infertility, or heartbreak. This exceptional debut reveals the extraordinary and mysterious underpinnings of ordinary lives whose presence long linger after the reader turns the final page.”
— Publisher’s Weekly
“Arresting … McQuade writes with perceptive elegance.
— Boston Globe
“Captivating … an insightful, compassionate book — a truly wonderful collection.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[A]n art form in its own right, combining ancient cultural prototypes with modern settings written poetically…. This is a slim volume to ponder, full of writing to savor.”
— Washington Independent Review of Books
“McQuade uses natural imagery … and an infusion of strangeness and wonder that verges on the supernatural to connect these stories, which are also linked thematically. Piecing together these connections demands close reading — and rewards it, with details to savor. Short-story fans should be on the lookout for McQuade, whose style nestles somewhere between Elizabeth Strout’s and Helen Oyeyemi’s.”
“These are stories of magical lyricism, contemporary in their exploration of the obsessions of girls and young women, mythic in their scope and mystery….Remarkable. The work of an exceptional writer.”
— Joyce Carol Oates
“The stories in Tell Me Who We Were are united by ferociously complicated women wrestling with pain and desire in a vividly unsettled world. Kate McQuade is a spectacular writer, equal parts sensitive and fearless, and Tell Me Who We Were is abundant with heartbreak and wonder.”
— Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel
“With exquisite imagery and lush prose, Tell Me Who We Were examines trauma, loss and the inexplicability of time’s passage through a series of linked stories that, despite heartbreak, reveal how deeply interconnected we all are. Kate McQuade is one of the most exciting writers I’ve read in years. I could read — and learn from — her prose all day and still want more, and the haunting, crackling-with-life world of this linked collection will long stay with me.”
— Anne Valente, author of Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down
“As I read Tell Me Who We Were, I wanted to drown in its pages. I adored this remarkable, wonderful book of linked stories, held together by a mysterious death. The stories capture the longing of girlhood, the strangeness of motherhood, the pain and hopefulness felt in a marriage. Kate McQuade writes with beauty, grace, and an electric touch of magic.”
— Annie Hartnett, author of Rabbit Cake
“A lush dark fairy-tale forest of a book — full of shadowy life, magical upendings, and all the longings and betrayals of the body. So deeply felt and evocative that we live these stories inside the characters’ skins. A moving, richly textured exploration of what it means to be haunted.”
— Clare Beams, author of We Show What We Have Learned
“Kate McQuade’s Tell Me Who We Were is the most refreshing work of contemporary literature I’ve read in years…. The author’s courageous willingness to enter the most intimate human experience charges every page with brave news, pleasure, and illumination. The roots of this book are in ancient literature, but its spirit is stirringly twenty-first century. A virtuoso performance!”
— David Huddle, author of The Story of a Million Years and The Faulkes Chronicles
“The elegant, intimate stories in Kate McQuade’s Tell Me Who We Were provide a revelatory glimpse into the dark magic of girlhood, the intense pulsations of young adulthood, and the fraught sensuality of womanhood. This is an artfully constructed, soulfully rendered collection whose characters, images, and questions will resonate long after you turn the last page.”
— Keija Parssinen, author of The Unraveling of Mercy Lewis