“Extraordinary...beautifully precise...[an] earnestly ambitious debut.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A wild, angry, and devastating masterpiece of a book.”—NPR
“[A] descendent of the Dickensian ‘social novel’ by way of Jonathan Franzen: epic fiction that lays bare contemporary culture clashes, showing us who we are and how we got here.”—O, The Oprah Magazine
One sweltering night in 2013, four former high school classmates converge on their hometown in northeastern Ohio.
There’s Bill Ashcraft, a passionate, drug-abusing young activist whose flailing ambitions have taken him from Cambodia to Zuccotti Park to post-BP New Orleans, and now back home with a mysterious package strapped to the undercarriage of his truck; Stacey Moore, a doctoral candidate reluctantly confronting her family and the mother of her best friend and first love, whose disappearance spurs the mystery at the heart of the novel; Dan Eaton, a shy veteran of three tours in Iraq, home for a dinner date with the high school sweetheart he’s tried desperately to forget; and the beautiful, fragile Tina Ross, whose rendezvous with the washed-up captain of the football team triggers the novel’s shocking climax.
Set over the course of a single evening, Ohio toggles between the perspectives of these unforgettable characters as they unearth dark secrets, revisit old regrets and uncover—and compound—bitter betrayals. Before the evening is through, these narratives converge masterfully to reveal a mystery so dark and shocking it will take your breath away.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Journalist Stephen Markley's debut novel explores the Rust Belt’s real-world ills: unemployment, foreclosures, the working class's deflated dreams. Set in the fictional New Canaan, Ohio, the story centers around Bill Ashcroft, who revisits his hometown a decade after 9/11. He finds all his old friends somehow damaged—by drugs, the Iraq war, or simply their own bleak prospects. Bill himself is an emotionally wounded idealist with a penchant for self-medicating; the further we follow him, the more ill-advised his homecoming seems. Markley’s vivid details and sharp insights will resonate with anyone interested in the state of the Union.
In Markley's standout debut novel (following nonfiction works Publish This Book and Tales of Iceland), four former high school classmates return to their Ohio hometown to make amends. Once a bastion of steel-mill industry, New Canaan has been corroded by economic downturn and opiates; it's pervaded by a sense of disillusionment shared by the four, whose rudderless adult lives pale alongside the blinding lights of their adolescence. Over the course of one night interlaced with high school flashbacks the four settle old scores and uncover some of the town's nefarious secrets. There's Bill Ashcraft, who drives into town to deliver a package to a familiar recipient; Stacey Moore, a doctoral candidate who's sucked into the mystery of her former lover's disappearance; veteran Dan Eaton, who returns from Afghanistan with a prosthetic eyeball and emotional wounds; and Tina Ross, who confronts a violent part of her past. As the night progresses, the long-buried truth behind a horrifying town legend takes shape, offering a window into the raw forces that shape the town and its residents. Markley's novel is alternately disturbing and gorgeous, providing a broad view of the anxieties of a post-9/11 Middle America and the complexities of the humans who navigate them.
Customer ReviewsSee All
High school history can stick with you for the rest of your life. In a small town in Ohio, people who grow up together are defined by those years, no matter how long it’s been or how much they’ve changed along the way.
In the prelude we get to know about the image the town presents during Rick’s memorial parade. A parade that is steeped in patriotism. New Canaan is a staunch bastion of patriots - the right side of politics. Lurking in the shadows, though, is a meth and opiate crisis. The stuff that people like to hide in the shadows. Markley gives us this prelude as insight into what we are about to experience with Bill, Kaylyn, Rick, Stacey, Dan & Tina, and the assorted others involved in their lives.
We start with the story of Bill Ashcraft. He’s an “activist” but also a drug addict/alcoholic. He was asked to transport something back to his hometown that he really didn’t want to go back to, save for one Kaylyn, the girl he’d always loved. Stacey Moore was Bill’s high school girlfriend, with secrets of her own involving Kaylyn. Tina Ross, the good girl, who was once involved with Bill, but later moved on, wasn’t such a good girl after all. Dan Eaton, the good guy through and through, who served in Iraq, has come back for just a one night dinner with his ex. And lastly, Rick Brinklan, big time football dude who lost his life in Iraq and is still thought of as a war hero in his hometown.
This story takes place over just a couple of days in “the Cane”, but it travels through time retelling history from high school. Markley does an amazing job of immersing the reader into each character’s story, each nuanced little bit of what has followed them from high school into adulthood. The timing of the middle east wars and the recession in the US sets a backdrop for New Canaan, a once middle-class bastion, now just a rundown suburb with a Walmart for its hub. The drug epidemic that America is facing takes center stage in this town that was once a thriving factory community. The tale of New Canaan is not unlike what is happening all over America today.
Not an easy read, this book is powerful in its storytelling. Stephen Markley is a master of words and character development. The threads of each person’s story is sewn together in a climax that will leave the reader stunned. As a debut novel, this is a powerfully written story that will stick with you.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I read a while before I discovered it was written in parts that go back and forth in time and events. The end is so tragically sad, just like a Mexican novella, even though the end is all too real nowadays.