Regarding the murder that lies at the heart of “Ocean State,” the new Stewart O’Nan novel, the “whodunit” aspect lasts exactly 9 words into the book.
The first sentence of a story that takes place predominantly in Ashaway, Rhode Island, in 2009, reads: “When I was in eighth grade, my sister helped kill another girl.”
It’s a hell of an authorial gamble, and that O’Nan did so suggests he relished the challenge to shoulder significant weight in terms of developing characters and sustaining tension throughout the book after that opening detonation.
To that end, “Ocean State” isn’t a typical thriller — if indeed it IS one. Two high school girls are infatuated with the same boy, a wealthy senior named Myles who, both women know (on some level), will graduate and head off to an elite college without a glance back. He casually and deceptively ping pongs between his beautiful longtime girlfriend Angel and relative newcomer Birdy, who has her own boyfriend but is willing to leave him for even a remote shot at Myles.
O’Nan, a New York Times bestselling writer whose other novels include “Last Night at the Lobster,” “City of Secrets,” “Henry, Himself,” “The Good Wife” and “The Night Country,” will read from and discuss “Ocean State” Thursday in Westerly’s Savoy Bookshop & Cafe.https://www.theday.com/article/20220405/ENT02/220409761