Cool for America is bookended by the misadventures of Leslie, a young woman first introduced in Early Work, who moves from New York to Missoula, Montana, to try to draw herself out of a lingering depression and, over the course of the book, gains painful insight into herself through a series of intense friendships and relationships. Other stories follow young men and women, alone and in couples, pushing hard against, and often crashing into, the limits of their abilities as writers and partners. In one story, two New Jersey siblings with substance-abuse problems relapse together on Christmas Eve; in another, a young couple tries to make sense of an increasingly unhinged veterinarian who seems to be tapping, deliberately or otherwise, into the unspoken troubles between them.
In stories that follow characters as they age from punk shows and benders to book clubs and art museums, and the promise of community acts, at least temporarily as a stay against despair. Running throughout is the characters' yearning for a transcendence through art: the hope that, maybe, the perfect, or even just the good- enough sentence, can finally make things right.