Tell Me Who We Were

Kate McQuade

Custom House/July 14, 2020

“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 Find Me

“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

“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

“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

“Kate McQuade’s Tell Me Who We Were is the most refreshing work of contemporary literature I’ve read in years....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

“Elegant, intimate...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 Louis

About the Book

Infused with the keen insight of Joyce Carol Oates and haunting power of Kelly Link, a radiant collection of linked stories that explore the vulnerability, resilience, and hidden desires of women, following six girls over the course of sixty years, from their first semester at boarding school to the twilight of their lives.

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.


About the Author

Kate McQuade lives in Andover, Massachusetts. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Harvard Review, Baltimore Review, and Verse Daily, among other journals. She has received awards and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Ucross Foundation, and Yaddo, and teaches at Phillips Academy, Andover.