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The Sterile Cuckoo

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  494 ratings  ·  55 reviews
“A hilarious, sad…all too true novel about the rough underside of a college love affair.”—John Knowles, author of A Separate Peace

When eighteen-year-old Jerry Payne first meets Pookie Adams at the Friarsburg, Oklahoma, bus depot, he is hardly aware that this moment marks the beginning of the most memorable love affair of his life. Overwhelmed (and yet secretly enchanted) b
Paperback, 224 pages
Published August 5th 2013 by W. W. Norton Company (first published January 1st 1965)
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Average rating 3.58  · 
Rating details
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Nov 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You can tell Holden Caufield to go home and stop bitching and moaning. I'll take Pookie Adams any day. The book is quite a bit different from the film (which has virtues of its own - notably Liza Minnelli's heartbreaking performance); is it better? What do you think? (Yes, it's better). John Nichols has done a masterful job of drawing two characters just coming into flower - emotionally needy, confused, exhilerated, excited, horny, discovering sex, questioning the sincerity of their feelings for ...more
Amber Dyson
Oct 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Oh, man. This book was given to me by an ex-boyfriend who knew I would love it. I loved it so much, maybe as much as I loved him. Then he would laugh at me whenever I would talk about it (which was often), and say, "Oh, you just wish that *you* were Pookie, don't you?" in a nasty, derisive, and withholding way.

That was true. I did wish that, but it still feels like a punch in the gut when I think about it all these years later.

And that's kind of what this book it like: a love story that you kno
Sep 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read my mom's old hardcover six or seven times when I was a kid. College! Drinking! And sex! But beyond, a sweet story about first love with a wacky female protagonist. I'm not sure it would merit five stars if I read it again, but it was a five star read at the time. ...more
I've been casting about for something that really comes boffo out of the gate and grabs me and this did it. This was made into a movie with Liza Minnelli around 1969, I think, which I vaguely remember seeing, part of anyway, and it was a popular novel in the mid-'60s; the story of a shy nerdy guy who meets a wacky girl as he's going off to college. I got this for 50 cents at Half Price Books.. So let's see how it goes. It should be very fast.

FYI, I have an earlier edition than the one depicted h
Dec 22, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, own, meh, romance
“Several years ago, during the spring semester of my junior year in college, as an alternative to either deserting or marrying a girl, I signed a suicide pact with her.”

Right from the opening line it’s evident that The Sterile Cuckoo isn’t your typical boy-meets-girl type of story. Sure it’s about being in the throes of first love as all of the hallmark feelings of awkwardness, enthusiasm, and horny sexual abandon are present, still this isn’t a charming or passionate love story, and Jerry
Alan Dupay
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: default
John Knowles, author of A Separate Peace, said it best in his review: “A hilarious, sad…all too true novel about the rough underside of a college love affair.” It wasn't my college experience, but seems to fit many descriptions of college life that have been related to me, although that is not to say it was the norm. ...more
Aug 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Having just read The Remains of the Day after seeing (and loving) the film adaptation first I thought I’d try another novel of a film I love, The Sterile Cuckoo. This was a very different ballgame. The film and the book are very different beasts. The film focuses on the two main characters and, of the two, Pookie dominates; it’s Liza Minnelli’s film and she rightly deserved an Oscar nomination IMHO. The book, however, is narrated by Jerry and so Pookie is interpreted for us. Of course she’s a my ...more
Apr 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 20th-century-usa
Drawn in by the initial surprise at Nichols' verbal gymnastics and admirable concision in drawing characters, I soon began to tire of the characters themselves, and grew impatient with their immaturity. He has probably drawn us an excellent likeness of his own privileged, misspent youth, though I suspect it was highly exaggerated. The love story he presents never has the thrill of actual emotion in it, though he tries, within the bounds of writerly restraint, to cast that spell. The rampant sexi ...more
Jul 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
A not-great book with some really great passages. Nichols certainly can write, but spends too much time practicing not being able to write. I'm not exactly sure what the motivation of this book is: push idiosyncrasy to the limit, de-mystify young love, see how random a paragraph can get?

I'm not one to bemoan plotless books but, let me put it this way: if this were a treasure map, the elephant's wings would flap fart dust through the crayon blue sinkhole of Pookie's alarm clock.
Adam Di Filippe
Apr 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is such a poignant book that I read it in just two sittings. And I'm even more impressed with how much I enjoyed this book inspite of being wholly annoyed with the main character's choices throughout the novel. ...more
the best opening line ever
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 27, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somehow I came across The Sterile Cuckoo, and it sounded intriguing enough between the sex and college love affair. Older literally really isn't something I read too often, since I'm far more apt to seek out a newer novel. It's always good to switch things up, though, and switch it up I did!

I don't know if it's because I'm used to reading modern literature compared to older novels (say, pre-1990's) but old literature often feels bland to me and that I'm never that sucked in. The Sterile Cuckoo w
R. Lawrence
Sep 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an odd statement from me but, the Movie was much better. The Book was entertaining, but it didn’t make me care for the characters the way the movie did. I loved the Movie and it’s taken me a while to read the book. Too bad there was no VW in this one. And the trip to New York was boring. All through the the book I kept wait for, “Jerry Payne, what a lousy name!”
Lisa Tangen
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Frankly, I enjoyed the movie of this book so much that I worried I wouldn't like the book. Those fears turned out to be unfounded. I liked the book as much as the movie. It gave a new perspective on the story and characters. Best of all, I got to spend more time with Pookie Adams and Jerry Payne. ...more
Feb 20, 2020 rated it did not like it
Picked up this book in the laundry room. It’s terrible.
Mar 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was riveting - so crazy and well told.
Aug 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Nostalgic, entertaining picture of college life in the 60's--makes Animal House seem tame. The similarities between young adult relationships then and now are astounding. I enjoyed reading the erratic thoughts of the quirky protagonist, a strong female lead who is held back by social rules and oppression. Liza Minnelli won an Oscar nomination for this role, which was perfectly cast. Splendid writing. Docked a star for the casual racism. This was the first time that I couldn't find a book (for le ...more
Jul 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good find for me. I find I have this dilemma sometimes that I want to read something really and truly random, not in the sense of being avant garde, but in the sense of something I haven't heard of before and don't have any reason to read. The other horn is that I'm always afraid it will be a waste of time, there are so many books I have good reason to think I will like. I won't always, but the point is both having a reason to read a book and not having a reason to read a book are bot ...more
David Roberts
It's always interesting to me to have become familiar with an author's work and then go back to read their first novel, as it was with Nichols' first work, the story of a likable college couple: Jerry and Pookie. They sure seem to have a lot going for them until they drink their relationship, and apparently themselves, into near-oblivion and oblivion, respectively (though I'm not certain about the latter). The characters are equally quirky, but the novel not as uproariously funny as his later wo ...more
Oct 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Back in the early 1960s, the Love Generation had not quite arrived at American colleges and universities, but as this funky period piece proves, students were already pretty wild and kooky. They partied hard, got drunk, were promiscuous, and did a lot of things they lived to regret. I know there were plenty of young people during John F. Kennedy years, who took their pursuit of a college degree very seriously, but in this short, quirky novel, most of the characters don’t seem to see higher educa ...more
Aug 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel, 2009
John Nichols has read me ( and so I thought I'd return the favor, haha. But seriously, folks. Admittedly, I read The Sterile Cuckoo because, I, too, am a Hamilton alumnus, though I have never heard "the call of the VT" (Village Tavern for all you non-Hill folk) as he had, I still wanted to read this homage to the Hamilton I never knew. Truthfully, the Hamilton/Central New York nostalgia this brought on was dwarfed by the amazing writing - very young, very ...more
Emily Crow
The story of a college romance between our narrator, a rather bland fellow named Jerry, and Pookie, a girl who never stops talking. The novel shows their relationship from awkward first meeting, through the rush of that first infatuation, on to its whimpering demise. The setting is an alcohol-sodden college campus, and the strength of youthful emotion is captured well throughout.

In many ways, this is a rather good novel, and I could appreciate its strengths: how quickly having a wild good time c
Book about falling in love written in the 1960's. It does a good job of describing what falling in love, being in love, & breaking up are often like. Unlike many other readers it seems, I don't find the characters particularly odd or particularly mentally ill. (I am not quite sure what that might say about me.) I find both of them very believable just how they are written.

I was a bit disappointed with this novel though. I think it was another thing that I might have had built up in my head. I th
JoMarie DeGioia
Aug 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book might have been published a couple of generations ago but it fits right in with today's college-age romances. No cell phones, Internet or emails, but otherwise it's surprisingly contemporary. It's very quirky yet emotionally evocative, and I defy you not to fall in love with Pookie. Jerry is a typical college guy, though he wants to be more. To have more. And then? Well, I won't spoil it but you'll have to use your imagination to find the happy ending. It's there for me, between the li ...more
Laura Edwards
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Wonderful, quirky little story about first love. I loved the character of Pookie Adams. The ending was kind of sad as the relationship played out. And I'm not sure Jerry got it right in the end after receiving the note. Perhaps, Pookie wanted someone to validate what she did or care enough to check and make sure she didn't go through with it (if her words were only a threat). But, by that point, Jerry and Pookie were no longer connecting in a way which worked. And, like Jerry, we'll never know. ...more
Oct 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, adult
Loved the movie, loved the book. This movie/book so captures the isolation, alienation, and desolation that predated the subsequent acceptance of the nerd.

The first college romance, as depicted by Pookie and Jerry, two very quirky East Coast college students, is so fragile and so frightfully naive that it is as painful as it is predictable. Maybe you had to be there. Pookie is the female Holden Caulfield, although I have to admit I felt way more empathy for her than him.

Apr 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alyson by: Bought it at an estate sale
The book jacket of my 1965 copy said, "At the age of 24, John Nichols showed the polish and sophistication of a seasoned novelist--his touch sure, his wit sharp, and Pookie Adams, his heroine, a pure original." I enjoyed every minute of reading this book. The characters were interesting and entertaining. I was sorry to come to the end, and have to find a new book to read. I now want to read other books by this author. ...more
Nov 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book whose plot meanders a bit, but overall the language and events at any given moment are too intriguing for you to feel that the book is pointless. It let you know rather early on that it was a depressing book, but let you ease into happiness quite a few times. Also reminded me of Catcher in the Rye, but for people a few years older (less angst more real problems).

I liked Pookie.
Jul 13, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book could have simply been the story of a college love affair. However, John Nichols created a much more interesting story with his characters. In some ways the book reminded me a lot of J.D. Salinger, but having read Nichols before I know that he can stand on his own two feet. Some people might find the story dated, but I enjoyed the setting of the book (1960s).
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John Nichols is the author of the New Mexico trilogy, a series about the complex relationship between history, race and ethnicity, and land and water rights in the fictional Chamisaville County, New Mexico. The trilogy consists of The Milagro Beanfield War (which was adapted into the film The Milagro Beanfield War directed by Robert Redford), The Magic Journey, and The Nirvana Blues.

Two of his oth

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