by Pete Beatty


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One of The Millions and BuzzFeed’s Most Anticipated Books

A spectacularly inventive debut novel that reinvents the tall tale for our times—“Cuyahoga defies all modest description...[it] is ten feet tall if it’s an inch, and it’s a ramshackle joy from start to finish” (Brian Phillips, author of Impossible Owls).

Big Son is a spirit of the times—the times being 1837. Behind his broad shoulders, shiny hair, and church-organ laugh, Big Son practically made Ohio City all by himself. The feats of this proto-superhero have earned him wonder and whiskey toasts but very little in the way of fortune. And without money, Big cannot become an honest husband to his beloved Cloe (who may or may not want to be his wife, honestly).

In pursuit of a steady wage, our hero hits the (dirt) streets of Ohio City and Cleveland, the twin towns racing to become the first great metropolis of the West. Their rivalry reaches a boil over the building of a bridge across the Cuyahoga River—and Big stumbles right into the kettle. The resulting misadventures involve elderly terrorists, infrastructure collapse, steamboat races, wild pigs, and multiple ruined weddings.

Narrating this “deliriously fun” (Brian Phillips) tale is Medium Son—known as Meed—apprentice coffin maker, almanac author, orphan, and the younger brother of Big. Meed finds himself swept up in the action, and he is forced to choose between brotherly love and his own ambitions. His uncanny voice—plain but profound, colloquial but surprisingly poetic—elevates a slapstick frontier tale into a screwball origin myth for the Rust Belt.

In Cuyahoga, tragedy and farce jumble together in a riotously original voice. Evoking the Greek classics and the Bible alongside nods to Looney Tunes, Charles Portis, and Flannery O’Connor, Pete Beatty has written a rollicking revisionist (mid)Western with universal themes of family and fate—an old, weird America that feels brand new.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982155551
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 10/06/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 36,208
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Pete Beatty is a Cleveland-area native. He has taught writing at Kent State University and the University of Alabama. He currently works at the University of Alabama Press. He lives with his wife in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Cuyahoga is his first novel.

Read an Excerpt

In the stories you are used to, a stranger arrives at the castle, or the king is gnawed by crisis. Swords bang together. Ghosts trouble a pale hero. Lovers’ hearts boiling. We drink down such wild stories to drown our worries. They are whiskey to wash out our brains.

My brother’s stories are more apple cider. They are good to drink but you will not forget yourself entirely. Wholesome tales, without too many fricasseed widows. True mostly – I will not lie any more than is wanted for decency. Simple and moral, easy to grab, the better to encourage someone over the head with. Not too quiet – you must not fall asleep. Let us have commerce and racing horses. Progress and the mastery of nature. Swap swords for axes and plows. Let us have tenderness but also a dash of cussedness and tragedy. All in the manner native to Ohio.

In this story lovers’ hearts do not boil but go slowly like stew. The crisis has got square cow’s teeth instead of fangs. There is not a king to be seen. Only my brother as hero.

And we will have a stranger at the castle.

I will take that good part.

My name is Medium Son.

We are no longer strangers any – folks call me Meed.

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