Ocean State by Stewart O'Nan
3/15/22; 240 pages
Ocean State by Stewart O'Nan is a very highly recommended literary fiction and a profound and heartbreaking family drama. This is an excellent novel and will certainly be on my top ten list for 2022.
Set in 2009, Carol Oliviera has two daughters, Angel and Marie, and they live in the working-class town of Ashaway, Rhode Island. Angel is a senior in high school and has been dating Myles for three years. Birdy Alves is dating Hector, but she and Myles are conducting a clandestine relationship, secretly cheating on their partners. The impending tragedy is foretold by thirteen-year-old Marie's opening statement, “When I was in eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl.”
Ocean State is not a murder mystery. It is a character study and the narrative is told through a series of flashbacks and internal monologues from the alternating perspective of these four women: Marie, Angel, Carole, and Birdy. Marie's account binds the whole story together as she is reflecting on all of the events which occurred years earlier. Each of these characters are depicted as realistic individuals with secrets, obsessions, guilt, and fears. Each of these characters are flawed, unhappy, and seeking love and acceptance. It is an intimate, sympathetic portrait of sisters, mothers, and daughters and how they interact with each other as well as a story of working-class life during a recession.
O’Nan is one of my favorite authors and Ocean State demonstrates all the reasons why. The writing is exceptional. Once you start it you will not be able to set Ocean State aside until you have finished it. It is beautifully written with insightful details and a plot that is heartbreaking and compelling. The details are meticulously chosen and the plot is deliberately crafted to make every detail vital to the story. Everything leads to the tragic climax, which even though we know it is coming, it is still poignant. And all of this is handled with compassion and tenderness.
If you enjoy literary fiction, Ocean State should be on the top of your reading list. This is a perfect choice for books clubs and one of the best books of 2022.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grove Atlantic.