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March 2005
One Vacant Chair
by Joe Coomer

From the book jacket of the 2003 first edition (Graywolf Press):

It’s where you sit down that determines everything in life.

Sarah’s aunt Edna paints portraits of chairs. Not people in chairs, just chairs. The old house is filled with the paintings, and the chairs themselves surround her work—a silent yet vigilant audience. At the funeral of Grandma Hutton—whom Edna has cared for through an agonizingly long and vague illness—Sarah begins helping her aunt clean up the last of a life. This includes honoring Grandma’s surprising wish to have her ashes scattered in Scotland.

“We were two fat women, eighteen years apart, a chair artist and a designer of Christmas ornaments, who only knew we had troubles and a hot summer to get through,” says Sarah. But as it turns out, there is a great deal more to her quirky aunt’s troubles than Sarah could possibly imagine. As the novel turns from the hot, oppressive heat of Texas to the misty beauty of Scotland, she learns of her aunt Edna’s remarkable secret life and comes to truly understand the fragile business of living and even dying.


Joe Coomer is the author of Apologizing to Dogs, Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God, The Loop, Sailing in a Spoonful of Water, and an award-winning book of nonfiction, Dream House. He lives in Texas and Maine.



“A marvelously creative comic writer.”
—The Washington Times

“Impossible to resist.”
—The New Yorker

“Coomer writes so well, with such freshness and authenticity, that we hate to put his book down.”
—The Boston Globe

“Joe Coomer is blessed with a rich, Southern voice—strong, clear and full of poetry.”
—Susan Isaacs

“Coomer manages to write the world into a small space, and like a brain surgeon with his scalpel, wields his pen accurately and incisively. A master of lyric brevity.”
—Texas Observer


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