Books, Books, Books with Peg Pipolo

the stark beauty of last things

a novel by Celine Keating


Book launch party:  Saturday, October 28, 6pm at The Carl Fisher House, 44 Foxboro Road, Montauk  ~ hosted by the Montauk Historical Society

“It began its rise at a point on the beach just visible from his cottage.  A flush of color would soak into the darkness, and he would sit with his coffee and watch as the tiny speck of red slowly… so slowly… eased up, until the globe sat on the horizon with the majesty of a queen upon her throne.  Gulls wheeled in excitement as the pinks and oranges spread, and he watched, eyes stunned and burning, his chest filling with emotion.  It seemed to him there should be a musical accompaniment.  Something as magnificent as this deserved its own symphony.”

Keating’s characters are engaging and complex, portrayed in a story that is captivating and relatable.  The reader wants to understand what moves them and she carefully guides by entwining us into the essence of who they are.

This is the type of book where you miss the characters as soon as you complete the last page, but it runs deeper than that— you miss the cause. Change can be hard for many reasons, but it takes foresight to know when it is simply change or when it is permanent damage to what so many of us treasure: Protecting and preserving the environment, a standard of peaceful living and a community’s quality of life. These things can be lost with the lack of foresight that greed can destroy for all, in the benefit of one or few.

It doesn’t have to be Montauk that pulls at your heart. There are so many hidden gem towns being lost to overbuilding and corporate businesses rather than mom and pop establishments who are from the community. Places run by the love of preserving what is valued in each of these beautiful treasures at their core. This is very relatable to so many of us.

Keating does a wonderful job of unearthing our childhood memories and makes the reader want to rediscover the nooks of Montauk: cranberry picking, hidden hiking trails, moonlit swims, potluck bonfires….  Her imagery and descriptive phrasing are captivating.  The way she characterizes the good natured and easy going locals makes one long for the way life should be lived.

The stark beauty of last things is the perfect read for personal enjoyment, as well as for a book club. Keating conjures a plethora of opportunities for engaging conversations on environmental issues, personal relationships, and values. It will be fun, albeit a melancholic fun, to see who knows Montauk best and who in your circle can name the locations and places that she retitles in the unfolding of her story.

“The time would come when the built environment would irrevocably dominate the natural, and the essence of the place would be lost.”

Neither Keating nor I are of that mindset that lament what Montauk has “become.” We love Montauk for what it was, what it is, and we are hopeful of preserving all that makes it Montauk.

Listen to NPR’s Baum on Books podcast from July 27th to hear their review:

Céline Keating is an award-winning writer formerly of New York City and Montauk, and now living in Bristol, Rhode Island. She is the author of two novels, Layla (2011) and Play for Me (2015). She is also the co-editor of the anthology On Montauk, A Literary Celebration (2016).

Céline’s short fiction has been published in numerous literary magazines and her short story “Home” received the first-place 2014 Hackney Award for Short Fiction. An excerpt from The Stark Beauty of Last Things received the 2021 First Place award in fiction from the Tucson Festival of Books.

Céline grew up in Queens, New York. She earned a Masters in Creative Writing from City College, CUNY. She and her husband purchased a co-op in Montauk in 1988, and were part-time, year-round residents until recently. Since 1990 she has served on the board of environmental organization Concerned Citizens of Montauk.