Jaimee Wriston Colbert

Winner of the 2021 International Book Award in General Fiction!

Winner of the 2021 NYC Big Book Award in General Fiction!

CLICK HERE to order "How Not to Drown" from publisher or here to choose where you'd like to purchase. To order any or all of these books, visit the BOOKS page.

PRAISE FOR "How Not to Drown":

“A deeply reflective and highly entertaining read. This is a wide open novel full of rich characters and an expansive sense of history that reaches back to the 1850s and moves freely through time, making the past a living coral reef on which the present offers the choice of either adapting to the complexity of the reef or contributing to its death. How Not to Drown is one of the most compelling reading experiences I have had over this difficult year.”

Joe Weil, North American Review

“This quirky saga, told from various perspectives, delves into the sudden onslaught of grief and regret heaped upon a dysfunctional family. A poignant portrait of a family struggling to cope with tragedy.”

—Library Journal

HOW NOT TO DROWN, A Novel (writing as Jaimee Wriston)

“Wriston is utterly entrancing in her fourth novel, imaginatively exploring regrets, grief, obsessions, and love with fluent empathy and mordant humor. Improvising on her haunting signature themes—family conflicts, resilient young women, brokenness, the sea, and mystical beings—Wriston offers a complexly evocative, bittersweet, and richly involving tale.”

—Donna Seaman, Booklist

“Life is complicated, and family is difficult. Nobody knows this better than Jaimee Wriston, whose lush new novel, drenched in folklore, is a glorious web of family connections and missed connections. The characters— headstrong, conflicted women and damaged men--tug against their destiny, but the Scottish karma that unfolds across generations is sometimes strong enough to pull them under. ‘Stories aren’t supposed to make sense,’ the agoraphobic Daniel tells his niece, but stories can make you want to live. This brilliant book will revive you!”

—BONNIE JO CAMPBELL, National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage

“Jaimee Wriston writes about damaged characters with ebullient wit and intelligence. How Not to Drown is a fierce—and fiercely funny—family epic, one of those rare books that is both smart and entertaining. If you liked Olive Kitteridge, you’ll love Amelia MacQueen, reluctant grandmother, grieving mother, former model, and a lifelong curmudgeon who is just trying to keep her surviving son, her damaged granddaughter, and what’s left of her family afloat. In writing about how a tragedy can ripple down through generations, Wriston reminds us that we make our families as much as our families make us.”

—ALEXI ZENTNER, Acclaimed author of Copperhead

“A mesmerizing, heart-stopping story of a family mired in grief and a deep history of loss, How Not to Drown is a radiant lesson in the double necessities of mourning and survival. These lost, quirky characters, seining the human frailties in us all, will sweep you under their spell like a tidal wave as they struggle, with humor and grace, to embrace the beauty of a diminished world, their aching history. How do we the living not drown in the world’s sorrows? By diving deep, by saving one another. Throw yourself a lifeline and read this lovely, lovely book.”

—MINROSE GWIN, award-winning author, The Accidentals

How Not to Drown is an unforgettable balancing act, at once visceral and thoughtful, raw yet sensitive, sometimes painfully humorous, complex but basic, though never simple. Jaimee Wriston creates a multi- generational survivalist manifesto that maps the tenuous world between breath and death and compels readers forward even as they are forced to hold their breath, for themselves as well as for Wriston’s riveting and imperiled characters.”

—JAMES ANDERSON, award-winning author, The Never-Open Desert Diner and Lullaby Road

How Not to Drown is both funny and heart-wrenching, caustic and emotional, and serious and uplifting. Wriston’s quirky and unique characters are so real they leapt off the page. I rooted for them as my heart ached for them, rapidly turning pages to see what would happen next.”

—ELYSSA FRIEDLAND, The Floating Feldmans



Vanishing Acts dramatizes what doesn’t disappear: a mother’s love for her son and for her own mother, the wages of loyalty, the terror of abandonment, and the possibility of transformation. Jaimee Wriston Colbert’s fierce intelligence is at work in every sentence of this deeply felt novel about generational trauma. Once I started, I couldn’t stop reading and found myself gasping at the choices these fully realized characters make. In this daring, beautifully executed novel Colbert shows us that whatever we imagined to be an illusion might be entirely real.—Lee Upton, author of The Tao of Humiliation and Visitations: Stories

If serious writing attempts, as William Matthews says, "...to speak what it feels like to be human," than lucky the reader who discovers Jaimee Wriston Colbert's Vanishing Acts, her characters as compassionately rendered as any I have encountered in a long time. As one of them muses, "...he should become an artist and try at least [to] paint this thing, color its painful truth so others could know it too." And now I do, having read this hauntingly beautiful novel, the prose, sentence by sentence, resonant and as deeply considered as the generational story it tells. I not only applaud its heart, and craft, and courage, I do so loudly, gratefully.
— Jack Driscoll, The Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot; The World of a Few Minutes Ago

Order Vanishing Acts HERE.



Brace yourself for Jaimee Wriston Colbert’s Wild Things. These linked rural noir stories unfold their wings near the Susquehanna River in a landscape graced by wildlife and haunted by lost prosperity, “business after business failing, padlocking their doors, factories with their boarded up windows, just another has-been town slowly shutting down.” Those left behind must navigate the meth labs and broken families and their own oversized yearning. “Abstinence may lead you to god,” says one of Colbert’s women, “but it’s hunger that’ll get you fed.” These characters sing their hunger and dance their hard-won wisdom. These brilliant, surprising stories defy gravity and take flight.
Bonnie Jo Campbell, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, Once Upon A River, and National Book Award finalist for American Salvage

Jaimee Wriston Colbert is a storyteller of the first order, and Wild Things is immensely rewarding. A must read for short story lovers, the voice not only captivatingly original, but downright addictive. I did not want the collection to end, and for days afterward I could still hear that pitch-perfect blend of lyric and narrative whispering in my ear. Without question this is her finest book so far!
Jack Driscoll, The World of A Few Minutes Ago

A tremendous new collection from a writer with extraordinary powers of observation and an empathetic understanding of the thorny, heartbreaking human condition. There’s so much reverence for the world in Wild Things, so much intelligence and beauty on every page. A stunning book.
Christine Sneed, Little Known Facts and The Virginity of Famous Men

Jaimee Wriston Colbert has written a book of deeply affecting elegies to the scattered remnants of wilderness, the some few wild things we still live among: blackbird, brown trout, reef shark, teenage girl. By turns luminous and razor-sharp, in landscapes as diverse as a shimmering beach in Oahu and a crumbling mill town in upstate New York, these characters find comfort, not only in the “peace of wild things” but also in their scrap and bite, their tenacious urge toward survival in an absurdly hostile world.
Pam Houston, Contents May Have Shifted and Cowboys Are My Weakness

Colbert, Jaimee Wriston (author). Oct. 2016. 200p. BkMk, paperback, $15.95 (9781943491056).

REVIEW. First published October 15, 2016 (Booklist).

Colbert (Shark Girls, 2009) hones her clarion vision of the interconnectedness and vulnerability of life in this edgy, knowing, situationally complex, and emotionally intricate short story collection. Set in the decimated watershed of the Susquehanna River, and inspiring comparisons to Joyce Carol Oates and Bonnie Jo Campbell, these loosely linked and distinctly disquieting tales portray families shattered by closed factories, lost and dead-end jobs, foreclosed houses, meth addiction, failures to love, and despair. In passages of startling beauty and tenderness, Colbert draws striking correlations between the destruction of nature and human suffering. In “Erosion,” a woman in a faltering marriage, unable to get pregnant and in need of a job, thinks, “I’m the coral reefs dying, the hole in the ozone, pollution, drought, the planet’s bad news.” A nature-loving yet unloved boy becomes a confused man who holds a 15-year-old girl captive to protect her. Other characters are haunted by lost siblings and burdened by thoughts of extinction. Colbert’s divining sense of brokenness and our longing for wholeness make for extraordinarily incisive, stirring, funny, and haunting all-American stories.
—Donna Seaman – Booklist, Advanced Review of Wild Things



"As Hawaii becomes a state, sexy housewife Jaycee seethes like a caged predator. She is careless of her children, even pretty little Willa, who nearly dies after losing a leg to a shark. Willa heals physically, but she does not speak or leave her bed for 18 years. When she does emerge, "Shark Girl" is thought to be a mystic and a healer. Her older sister, called Scat, has become a "devastation photographer," specializing in natural disasters. Scat tries to reunite with her sister, but Shark Girl is elusive. No one is whole in award-winning Colbert's novel of terrors hidden and all too obvious. As the story reaches from Hawaii to Maine, all kinds of "shark girls" surface, including Gracie, a gentle 21-year-old with a cruelly scarred face, who picks up Willa's trail. Colbert has created an edgy and lush gothic tale laced with outlaw eroticism and barbed absurdities, and propelled by a powerful undertow racing beneath every alarming scene, bitterly funny moment, and strange twist of fate. From women battered and haunted to "throwaway kids," rock-and-roll burnouts, and quixotic quests, Colbert summons a world as volatile as Hawaii itself, with its cycles of volcanic destruction and slow repair."
—Donna Seaman, BOOKLIST (Starred Review)

"Colbert's Shark Girls is a mesmerizing novel, vibrant with eroticism, myth, and mystery."
—Madison Smartt Bell, author, All Souls' Rising

"This novel is so original and strange that it's hard to put a label on it, yet it has the lively detail and bold characterization and compelling plot that always make a good novel. I was captivated by the bold twists and turns, as well as the sharp and inventive language, and I was drawn in by the fascinating lore and setting of Hawaii."
—Bobbie Ann Mason, author, In Country: A Novel

"Jaimee Wriston Colbert's Shark Girls is as inventive as any novel I have read in a long time, the prose boisterous and perfectly mastered to tell this story about home and leave-taking, and about the quirky and unrelenting desire of the heart to find itself. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignantly, even disturbingly sad, it is, finally, and in every word, tender and original and as compassionate a look at character and place as you're apt to find anywhere. Shark Girls dazzles. A remarkable achievement.
—Jack Driscoll, author, How Like an Angel


"Colbert knows the weight and shape of the human heart."
—Small Press Review

"Jaimee Wriston Colbert's new episodic novel-in-stories is a jewel in both its form and its feeling, with layers of image and meaning as intricately patterned as the dust on a butterfly's wing."
—Madison Smartt Bell

"Evocative images of specimen butterflies, their broken bodies permanently suspended in time and pinned in place, suffuse Colbert's inventively interconnected stories of fragile yet defiant people whose lives immutably sway in a limbo between uncertainty and endurance. From Oahu's jade green hills and Honolulu's faded glamour to the psychological confinement of the Midwest's open spaces, Colbert's vivid array of characters are mired in place and desperate for escape that, once attained, is ephemeral..."

"Jaimee Wriston Colbert's words are like magic. Colbert gives voice to those pushed to the margins of resistance, of sanity, of survival - and what a voice it is! Lyrical, imploring, humorous, and heartbreaking, the stories contained here take us out of dreams and into the reality of lives whose truths are both strange and familiar. It is her brilliant exploration of that no-man's land between what we desire and what we must live without that defines Colbert's deep empathy for her characters. We feel ourselves being drawn into the plight of the characters with such startling recognition that we feel our own lives teetering on the edge of something wondrous."
—Kim Barnes

"Dream Lives of Butterflies is full of startling wisdom and high-flown humor. Jaimee Wriston Colbert's characters are complete originals; full of sass and attitude, they struggle with the cultural tension between worlds and lives. Readers will love following these people on their full-hearted, rambunctious adventures."
—Diana Abu-Jaber


"A debut novel set in a haunted Maine town. Eerie, understated, and deft. Colbert uses atmosphere the way David Lean uses scenery."
Kirkus Reviews

"The scope of Jaimee Wriston Colbert's storytelling is impressive, with no fewer than 16 central characters delineated in intricately overlapping narratives... The stories stand on their own as sensitive and unsentimental evocations of unrelieved loss."
The New York Times Book Review

"Jaimee Wriston Colbert looks deeply into the ragged places in our psyches - into the parts of us torn open by loss and by failed love - and reveals our humanity in all its beauty and imperfection. Here is a writer who, in powerfully linked stories, movingly evokes both our craving for the sacred and our tenacious embrace of the profane."
—Dawn Raffel, Judge, Willa Cather Fiction Prize

"Climbing the God Tree is an intricate cat's cradle of obsession, desire, compassion, and hope. Jaimee Wriston Colbert holds back nothing - in each of these finely interwoven lives, I recognize something of my own. An extraordinary novel."
—A Manette Ansay, author, River Angel

"New York Times" Book Review