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
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.Mary Pols, The New York Times, “A Thriller Wrapped in a Story of Sisters and First Love”
“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.“Told through multiple voices, “Ocean State” examines the murder of a young girl” – StarTribune
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.“A murder in the suburbs – Ennui meets passion in O’Nan’s latest novel” – Boston Globe
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.“8 New Books To Read This Month” – Vanity Fair
Reviews don’t get much farther flung than New Zealand.
I seemed to have been lately reading novels with quirky introverted characters; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker to name just two. They are the sort of stories to be read at leisure. So what better time, in the midst of the 2020 Covid 19 Lockdown, to read something in a similar vein.
Henry Maxwell is a retired gentleman once a soldier and an engineer, always a husband, father and grandfather. The year is 1998 and we share this with Henry in his 75th year. As each chapter captures a moment in the year, we experience the smaller details of Henry’s life.
These everyday minutiae are poignantly shared; from the humour of trying to stop Rufus the dog from killing patches of grass with his peeing, to the joy of receiving a perfect Father’s Day present from his children.
Full text of the review:
O’Nan’s elegiac companion piece to his 2011 novel, Emily, Alone, follows Emily’s husband of 49 years, Henry Maxwell, who, at 75, suffers from variety of physical ailments. The year is 1998 and readers follow Henry and his family from Valentine’s Day to New Year’s Eve as they celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, observe annual traditions, and spend the summer by the lake. Henry and Emily grapple with their two adult children, Margaret and Kenny, their respective spouses, Jeff and Lisa, and their grandchildren. Nothing especially dramatic happens, except, maybe, when Margaret, who is a recovering alcoholic, gets into an accident right before Thanksgiving and Emily rushes to be with her, leaving Henry to serve the holiday feast to the rest of his family on his own. A member of the “Greatest Generation,” Henry deals with his own growing sense of mortality, but he does it with a rare grace that endears him to the reader. The author evokes Henry’s middle-class Pittsburgh existence like a Keystone State Joyce. One would have to go back to Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridgeand Mr. Bridge to find a literary marriage bookended in such a perceptive fashion. (Apr.)