March 15, 2022
In the first line of Ocean State, we learn that a high school student was murdered, and we find out who did it. The story that unfolds from there with incredible momentum is thus one of the build-up to and fall-out from the murder, told through the alternating perspectives of the four women at its heart. Angel, the murderer, Carol, her mother, and Birdy, the victim, all come alive on the page as they converge in a climax both tragic and inevitable. Watching over it all is the retrospective testimony of Angel’s younger sister Marie, who reflects on that doomed autumn of 2009 with all the wisdom of hindsight.
Angel and Birdy love the same teenage boy, frantically and single-mindedly, and are compelled by the intensity of their feelings to extremes neither could have anticipated. O’Nan’s expert hand paints a fully realized portrait of these women, but also weaves a compelling and heartbreaking story of working-class life in Ashaway, Rhode Island. Propulsive, moving, and deeply rendered, Ocean State is a masterful novel by one of our greatest storytellers.
Praise for Ocean State:
In “Ocean State,” O’Nan is subverting the thriller, borrowing its momentum to propel this bracing, chilling novel. Whereas thrillers tend to use murders as a prurient jumping-off point, the entryway to the reader’s pleasure — that chance to play Columbo or Kinsey Millhone in our heads — O’Nan takes his time, humanizing this story to make the hole where the victim was suitably substantial.
—The New York Times
O’Nan deftly provides a larger collage of the enormity that unfolds, leaving us with reflection of the tenuousness of life, the wish that this tragedy could have been avoided, and the privilege of having been witness to its progression.
“Ocean State” is the story of a murder, but it wouldn’t be right to call it a mystery, because the killer’s identity is established in the very first sentence. Even as he inverts the form, veteran novelist Stewart O’Nan effectively keeps you turning the pages quickly with this tragic story of teenage love.
—StarTribune – “Told through multiple voices, “Ocean State” examines the murder of a young girl”
Despite the banal surface, this novel invites us in — we want to know these people, learn about their complexities. In the end, they’re as interesting as you or I; O’Nan’s great gift is that we want to know more about every person he writes, no matter how unremarkable they seem from the outside.
—Boston Globe – “A murder in the suburbs – Ennui meets passion in O’Nan’s latest novel”
In the first pages of this reversed psychological thriller, we learn that teenage Angel has killed a girl; soon there’s little question as to whom and why. (“Love.”) In flashbacks, the suspense comes from peeling back the layers in Stewart O’Nan’s immersive character studies.
—Vanity Fair – “8 New Books To Read This Month”
“Ocean State” is, above all else, a story of the things love does to us, both the beautiful and terrible.
—ABC News/Associated Press
“This isn’t a crime novel; it’s a Shakespearean tragedy told in spare, poetic, insightful prose.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Stewart O’Nan’s haunting and fleet Ocean State tunnels deeply into the heady, hard lives of the vivid young women at its center. Half-broken and full of longing, these women move us deeply. As the story hurtles toward an act of violence that feels both impossible and inexorable, we find ourselves wanting to stop and protect all of them.”—Megan Abbott
“From Speed Queen to The Good Wife to Emily, Alone, Stewart O’Nan has been one of the best chroniclers of the lives of American women. He writes about the single mothers, the watchful daughters, the neighborhoods where loyalty and struggle are echoed in hard work and marriages on the rocks. In Ocean State he writes once again about the women I know so well—who work as convalescent aides, in grocery stores and factories, mothers searching for one more chance at love, and daughters finding their first loves, with tragic consequences. I could not put this book down, and finished it so fast, and I keep seeing the rainy shores and abandoned mills, the three generations of women in America.”—Susan Straight
“One of Stewart O’Nan’s many gifts is a keen and unflinching eye lit with an abiding compassion for his characters, all of which is on display in his mesmerizing new novel, Ocean State. Set in the forgotten streets of post-industrial, blue collar Rhode Island, this timely and gritty tale takes us deeply into the lives of girls and women who must navigate the kind of loss that can either break or strengthen the ties that bind us all. Ocean State is a gem glittering in the darkness.”—Andre Dubus III
“Stewart O’Nan is out to break your heart in the most beautiful way. He is writing with his full power unleashed. This book is a classic.”—Luis Alberto Urrea
“In the opening paragraph Marie (who would be right at home in a Shirley Jackson novel) tells us the awful thing that’s going to happen, but of course, she doesn’t reveal the whole mesmerizing, devastating story. O’Nan has the integrity to not flinch, not even once, while expertly imbuing his characters with empathy, insight and authenticity. A uniquely 21st Century American tragedy, Ocean State wraps its hand around your heart and squeezes.”—Paul Tremblay
“What O’Nan has done perhaps better than anybody else the past ten years is deliver the complexity, heartbreak and human drama of everyday people living everyday lives.”—Jonathan Evison