Tuesday, August 21, 2018


Ohio by Stephen Markley
Simon & Schuster: 8/21/18
eBook review copy; 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501174476

Ohio by Stephen Markley is a recommended dark, rural Gothic character study of Millennials and social critique of small towns in the rust belt.

One summer night in 2013 four former classmates  return to their small town, New Canaan, in the northeastern Ohio rust belt, and face the ghosts from their past. Bill Ashcraft is an alcoholic, drug-abusing activist who is delivering a mysterious but clearly illegal package to a former classmate. Stacey Moore is a doctoral candidate who has returned to confront the mother of her high school girlfriend. Dan Eaton is a veteran of three tours in Iraq who has returned to New Canaan for a dinner date with his high school sweetheart. Tina Ross has a score to settle with the captain of the football team who sexually abused her in high school.

Ohio is divided into four parts, each told from one of the four different character's perspective in 2013 with events recalled from earlier, during and after high school. New Canaan is an  archetypal small rust belt town in decline, with foreclosures, a dying economy, and a meth problem. These character have all grown up post 9/11, feeling marginalized, with war, racial tensions, political polarization, and environmental warnings ever prevalent. Most of the characters are not likeable and are lost in the past, unable to grow up and move on with their lives.

Make no mistake; Ohio is a dark, pessimistic, violent, melancholy novel. While the development of his characters is adroit and sophisticated, they also seem to fall into caricatures of typical small town roles. The four parts from the character's point-of-view worked best for me when taken and considered as novellas that are linked and culminate with a portrait of a town and the events that shaped the lives of these people.  I'm not convinced that Ohio is the definitive novel for an entire state, but it does capture a small town in the area and a disenfranchised group of people. Did I say this was a dark, foreboding novel? The overwhelming tone and the voice of the characters were almost too bleak and hopeless for me.

On the other hand, the quality of the writing, despite the tone of the novel, can be opulent, descriptive, and insightful. It also needed a bit more editing, tightening up, because the wordiness and circumlocution does get out of hand in some places - as does the swearing.  Bill is an especially tiring character after a while, which is problematic because his (long) part is first in the book. It took sheer will power to finish his section and continue. Did I mention it is a dark, depressing novel?

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

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