Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Chances Are...

Chances Are... by Richard Russo
Knopf Doubleday: 7/30/19
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781101947746

Chances Are... by Richard Russo is a very highly recommended novel about a reunion on Martha's Vineyard of three Vietnam era men who have been friends since college. This is an exquisite examination of relationships and aging, along with a decades old mystery. One of the best novels of the year.

Lincoln, Teddy, and Mickey have been friends since they were scholarships students at Minerva College in Connecticut and worked as "hashers" in the dining hall of a sorority. It was while they were in college that the three all listened together to the draft lottery broadcast and they found out that Mickey's number came up first, Lincoln's was in the middle, and Teddy's toward the end. The three were also best friends with Jacy Rockafellow, a member of the sorority where they worked. When they all graduated from Minerva in 1971 the four spent one last weekend at the vacation home on Martha's Vineyard Lincoln's mother owned. This was the weekend Jacy disappeared and no one knows what happened.

Now, forty-four years later in 2015, the three friends are sixty-six and back on the Vineyard for a reunion. The mystery of what happened to Jacy will also be on the men's minds. Currently Lincoln is a happily married real estate broker with children and grandchildren. He grew up an only child in Dunbar, Arizona, the son of a domineering father and unassertive mother. Teddy is an editor at a small university press and suffers from spells and depression. He grew up as the only son of high school teachers in the Midwest. Mickey is a hard rock musician. He is the youngest and only son of a large family from West Haven.

The novel is about enduring friendships between three very different men who all have their own secrets, but it is also about Jacy and the mystery of what happened to her. Russo excels at developing realistic, sincere male characters who may be flawed but are conscientious and thoughtful. All these men are well developed characters. They have already experienced a life time of growth and changes, yet this weekend will change them. I love the way Russo captures the passage of time and the messiness of life through his characters. Life is rarely clear-cut, straightforward, or uncomplicated and Russo innately understands this and is able to convey this in his novels.

Russo is a outstanding writer and all his admirable abilities, both technical and literary, are on display in Chances Are....  The narrative is engrossing and held my complete attention from the beginning to the end. He realistically captures the time and place for these characters throughout the novel. Alternating chapters are told from the point-of-view of Lincoln and Teddy. We learn about their past, their friendship, and their lives leading up to the sixty-six-year-old men they are today. Suspense builds as the question of what happened to Jacy becomes increasingly important and there seems to be a suspect. Only one chapter is told through Mickey's point-of-view, and this is the chapter that provides some answers to questions spoken and unspoken.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday.

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