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The Coast of Good Intentions: Stories

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  164 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Michael Byers' collection tells graceful tales of achingly unresolved lives on the Pacific Northwest coast. Here are ferry workers, carpenters, park rangers, adolescents leaving home and retirees coming home again. Crab factories, cranberry bogs, the fog-shrouded shore, the Seattle skyline -- these are the settings for quiet but astonishing emotional epiphanies.
Paperback, 176 pages
Published April 29th 1998 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 1998)
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Feb 21, 2014 John rated it really liked it

In the very first story I read: "I was drunk but not drunk enough to say what I wanted, that we don't live our lives so much as come to them, as different people and things collect mysteriously around us." and I realized that as I read Michael Byer's works I had come to them and they were collecting mysteriously in my memory.

His stories are filled with the compassionate appreciation of an older soul, and images that distill to fine liquor intoxicating the reader. In the story "A Fair Trade," on

John Luiz
May 24, 2011 John Luiz rated it it was amazing
When this collection came out, much was made of the fact that Michael Byers was just 28. It wasn't just the fact that a writer so young could demonstrate such talent, but also that he could write so movingly and insightfully about older characters trying to make sense of their lives after retirement or in the wake of a divorce after a decades-long marriage. At 50, I'm not quite there yet, but I can say I was equally impressed with how well he captured the mindset of people well past his age when ...more
Aug 26, 2016 Steve rated it really liked it
Collection of 8 short stories. I wanted to leave this one a five really badly. I genuinely enjoyed the first five tales. They were well written and interesting. The last three, however, killed it for me. All three were the type that make you scratch your head, look around and say, what just happened here. I'm all for a twist or a bit of intrigue, but I can honestly say that the end of Wizard and Dirigible and the entirety of Prester John were pretty much nonsensical - and not in a good way like ...more
Apr 15, 2008 Steven rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
The back-cover blurb makes a big deal about how young Byers is (was), and as beautifully written as most of these stories are, some of the false notes are probably because of his age. This is a subtle point, but he gives his older characters sentiments that, while well imagined—that is, what he supposes someone who had those experiences would feel—those sentiments don’t have the edge of authenticity, they don’t feel like someone lived those experiences. I felt this way about some of Ethan Canin’ ...more
Nicole Rea
Jan 11, 2011 Nicole Rea rated it it was amazing
I loved this so, so much. It's an incredibly quick read, so I think I might have to digest it again in a sitting on some rainy or snowy weekend so I can pick up on all the subtleties I'm sure I missed in the first go.

I thought it was good, but not great, until I got to the story "In Spain, One Thousand and Three." It's told from the POV of a guy whose wife played the cello, but died, and he was pretty much completely obsessed with her for their two years of marriage so now he's coping with that
Miss Walker
Jul 21, 2011 Miss Walker rated it really liked it
Summer Book #14 A collection of short stories centered on the Pacific Northwest, this book was a great read, especially because I read a good chunk of it while waiting for a ferry in Friday Harbor. Drinking coffee. And possibly knitting. I could try to be a little more pacific northwest, but I left my fleece jacket at the campsite.

Like any collection of short stories, there were some that I could do without, but there is one that that will stick with me. "A Fair Trade" starts out slow, recordin
Jan 17, 2012 Catherine rated it it was amazing
It occurs to me that when I look through books at libraries and bookstores, I'm looking for a certain type of prose: I want the work to read beautifully, observantly of our human thoughts and emotions, and with an unexpected bit of brilliance in certain lines. I want unexpected wit, and a respect for people's thoughts.

All of that is present in The Coast of Good Intentions. These are stunning stories set in Washington state, and I only mention the setting because I'm thrilled finally to find sto
Aug 04, 2009 Jacob rated it it was amazing
May 2010

Nowadays, youth in publishing is hardly worth crowing about (Dear Christopher Paolini: We won’t get fooled again), but definitely not something to ignore, either. But I’m only 23, so what do I know? Still, the blurb on the back and some of the reviews seem to be excited about Michael Byers’ youth (he’s “only twenty-eight!” Or he was, when he published this), so maybe it’s something worth noting. Or not. Or is it?

Whatever the case, and whatever his age (then and now), Byers is a damn fine
Jan 21, 2011 Eliezer rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure I can adequately explain what it is about this book that resonated so deeply for me. There was such an understated, almost mundane quality about the characters in the stories and their lives and the situations they find themselves in that was just so note-perfect. The tone of the stories, the flow of them, reminded me a bit of Richard Yates' Eleven Kinds of Loneliness. These are just normal people going about their everyday lives, but that doesn't mean that there aren't these little ...more
Jul 30, 2007 Will marked it as to-read
I've only read one of the stories in this book and it was wonderful. The story, "Shipmates Down Under," was anthologized in the Best Short Stories of either 1997 or 1999 and is a strange and beautiful exploration of marriage and parenthood (two things of which I have no experience, but it's all very convincing). I can't recommend this story highly enough, and if anyone has a copy of this book I'd love to borrow it. Just wanted to put this review up there so that other short story lovers can go s ...more
Jul 05, 2009 Chrissie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I forgot it was a collection of short stories. Byers has an distinct way of sending the reader down a path with a character that is often lonely, unremarkable, yet poignant. The stories began to feel like repeats as the next story would display yet another person waiting for some-thing. Not to say that the characters are written as desperate or pathetic; they are completely unremarkable and simply learning to live in their own world. The male characters are more dimensional; the females seemed a ...more
Jan 30, 2008 Jeff rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who also used to know Susan
Recommended to Jeff by: Susan?
I bought this book because the author married an old friend of mine.

Byers has a deft touch with language. The stories were emotionally deep and i felt sated upon finishing most, enough so that i kept looking for his next book and purchased his first novel, Long for This World, immediately upon publication.
Oct 22, 2008 Robert rated it it was amazing
I'm friends with Michael Byers, having studied with him at Pitt, so there's no way I can write a fair review. I did, however, really like this book. The quote "There is beauty in precision" comes to mind when reading Byers: he has a gift for the perfectly placed detail. Also, I love the way his complex sentences form and unspool, carrying the reader along.
Apr 14, 2008 Marni rated it really liked it
A delightful read, lovely prose, not an earthshattering book but very satisfying. Short stories need to create a vivid world quickly, and he has done a very credible and creditible job. My favorite story is n Spain, ONe Thousand and Three'--a very moving portrait of a man grieving after his young wife's death.
Jul 14, 2007 Nicholas rated it really liked it
Pretty remarkable story collection. Each one unfolds slowly and ends up catching the reader in the gut with the struggle of his characters and the moments when they reveal the most about themselves. "Shipmates Down Under", "Wizard", and "In Spain, One Thousand and Three" are very polished and amazing stories.
Mar 07, 2009 Arianna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Byers writes beautifully. I'm not really a short-story reader, but he really put a lot of humanness into his characters - they were very easy to relate to, and to imagine. I would be interested in reading his novel at some point.
Oct 10, 2010 Kate rated it liked it
I don't usually like short story collections, but this one kept my attention. The stories all take place in various locations of the Pacific Northwest. The stories are all different, and I liked most of them.
Nov 14, 2013 Erin rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed reading this book of short stories that I just happened to pick up at a used book sale. I lived in Washington State as a young child and this book made me nostalgic for a place I hardly remember. Amazing the writer was so young when he wrote this. I'm very impressed.
Oct 18, 2009 J rated it liked it
I can't remember details, as i read the collection earlier this year. i do recall thinking that there was great topical versatility amongst the stories, as well as skill at creating very diverse characters. Padmini had recommended this to me.
Jun 23, 2011 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful collection, wide in its range and emotional scope. My favorite story was "Shipmates Down Under." I admired how Byers wove the (fictional) Australian novel into the family's story as subtext. Also, Byers writes children well.
Feb 16, 2012 Kelda rated it it was ok
I didn't finish it, but it could have been because I had to return it. I'd try this one again; it looks good.
Oct 13, 2007 Jasmin rated it it was ok
Kept waiting for a story that would grab me and it didn't happen. Seems like he thought up some promising characters and didn't get to know them very well.
Nov 19, 2013 Todd rated it liked it
I'd give two or three of the stories in here 5 stars, but as a collection the last stories seemed to be in the book just to fill out the collection.
Myke Reiser
Sep 18, 2007 Myke Reiser rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: YOU
Shelves: iownthisshit
Fucking amazing.
Feb 13, 2009 SmarterLilac rated it really liked it
Notable mostly for the stunning "Shipmates Down Under," which I found in "The Best American Short Stories, 1997," this collection is good overall. I still hope Byers becomes Mega-Famous someday.
Mar 10, 2011 RUSA CODES rated it it was amazing
This was one of the 1999 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to
Nancy Slote
Nancy Slote rated it liked it
Jun 06, 2013
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Jun 17, 2010
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Mar 27, 2008
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May 23, 2014
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Michael Byers is the author of the story collection The Coast of Good Intentions, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and the acclaimed novel Long for This World, winner of the First Novel Award from Virginia Commonwealth University. Both were New York Times Notable Books. A former Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner, he teaches at the University of Michigan."
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