The premise of Stephen Markley's novel Ohio was so compelling that I fought tooth and nail to get an advanced copy.
One hot, muggy night in The Cane a few years bah, four classmates converge on their hometown (New Canaan, but really, who calls it that?) on a series of missions that are inextricably bound even if they don’t realize it. Bill is running an errand for an old friend, muling something he doesn’t know but would love to find out because the drugs he’s taking are nuts. Stacey has been asked to meet with her nemesis, the mother of her high school lover who has run away and wants it to stay that way. Dan is a veteran of three tours who is back to visit his folks and catch up with the only woman he has ever loved. Tina seeks a reckoning for choices others made for her that have steered her life since high school. Tonight will change the trajectory of so many lives, leaving the wreckage of the baggage of the past out and open for all to see.
So, I’m dead. I was so utterly, completely destroyed by this novel that I can’t even see strait. This was such an outstanding piece of work that I honestly thought I might never read anything else ever again. This absolutely killed me. I felt myself slowly creeping back to the book after I put it down, wanting to be back in the world of these kids who were just that — kids — as they watched their world change so drastically. These characters are a little younger than me, and I understand their zeitgeist because it is my own. I know what it is like to live without war, without the prison industrial complex, and without the full invasion of addicting, homemade drugs. The landscape of their lives has shifted dramatically in small-town post-industrial America that it’s no wonder those who get out can, and they never return. Those who stay end up barely living if they remain alive.
I could see some of the twists and turns coming, but I did not see the biggest one, the undercurrent of the reason they all are back. This history, this Eason, draws them all like a magnet back to their center and holds on to them as if their lives depended on it. No matter how far these four have come, they will never be separate from their inner core. Stacey wrestles with her demons and the loss of the first person she truly, whole-heartedly loved. Bill’s demons are all in his head, and he must wrestle with himself in order to breathe. Dan is truly heartbreaking — a man who gave up everything to serve and lost so much, except loyalty. Tina — man, I rooted for Tina once I figured out what she was up to. I wanted her to find a solution so badly.
This novel was incredibly affecting, so much so that my heart hurt after I closed the final page. It was truly a gift to read in every way, and I’m so grateful it came into my life.