Ocean State
by O'Nan, Stewart

"In the first line of Ocean State, we learn that a high school student was murdered, and we find out who did it. The story that unfolds from there with incredible momentum is thus one of the build-up to and fall-out from the murder, told through the alternating perspectives of the four women at its heart. Angel, the murderer, Carol, her mother, and Birdy, the victim, all come alive on the page as they converge in a climax both tragic and inevitable. Watching over it all is the retrospective testimony of Angel's younger sister Marie, who reflects on that doomed autumn of 2009 with all the wisdom of hindsight. Angel and Birdy love the same teenage boy, frantically and single mindedly, and are moved by the intensity of their feelings to extremes neither could have anticipated. O'Nan's expert hand paints a fully realized portrait of these women, but also weaves a compelling and heartbreaking story of working-class life in Ashaway, Rhode Island. Propulsive, haunting, and deeply rendered, Ocean State is a masterful novel by one of our greatest storytellers"-

Stewart O'Nan is the author of numerous books, including Wish You Were Here, Everyday People, In the Walled City, The Speed Queen, and Emily, Alone. His 2007 novel, Last Night at the Lobster, was a national bestseller and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his family.

The latest from O'Nan (Henry, Himself, 2019) begins with the shocking and tragic end of a teen love triangle. Angel's longtime boyfriend Myles cheats on her with classmate Birdy. When their relationship is revealed, the reconciled Angel and Myles kill Birdy. But rather than homing in on the murder, O'Nan focuses on four women at the center of the story, alternating between the contemporaneous perspectives of Angel, Birdy, Angel's mother Carol, and Angel's 13-year-old sister, Marie. In addition, the novel is framed by the reflections of Marie as an adult looking back on the murder's reverberations within their family and their working-class Rhode Island community. Like Carol, who is constantly starting over with new boyfriends with her children in tow, young Angel and Birdy are willing to go to extremes to be loved, but Marie has a harder time making sense of her sister's crime of passion and struggles to leave the past behind. O'Nan's detailed, sympathetic portrayal of his characters and their community will appeal to fans of Elizabeth Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016), Olive Kitteridge (2008), and Olive, Again (2019). Copyright 2022 Booklist Reviews.

Prolific, protean O'Nan examines a familiar subject, hard-pressed working-class life in America, through the lens of a Rhode Island murder. Ashaway, Rhode Island, in 2009 is a typical postindustrial town; the mill that employed most of its residents is closed, leaving people like Carol to scrabble for a living as a nurse's aide to support her two teenage daughters. One of them, Marie, opens the novel with these words: "When I was in eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl." This is not a whodunit but an exploration of why the murder happened; O'Nan tells the story with his characteristic compassion (and artistic boldness) by inhabiting the consciousnesses of four unhappy, conflicted females. Overweight, unpopular Marie is the fearful, helpless observer. Carol wants more for her girls than she has, "but exactly how that will happen she can't imagine"-so she focuses instead on finding a new boyfriend who's better than the parade of losers who have earned her eldest daughter Angel's contempt. Angel can't see any way out either; her post-graduation future promises little beyond continuing to work in her dead-end after-school job while privileged boyfriend Myles heads for college and "she'll lose him to some rich girl." Actually, Myles is already cheating on her with Birdy, the victim-to-be, whose lovestruck perspective is the fourth narrative strand. But she's no rich girl; Birdy and Angel are more alike than different, frustrated and obsessing about a boy who doesn't seem worth it. Seen only through others' eyes, Myles' role in the ensuing tragedy remains murky. The novel's main thrust is also unclear; Marie's closing monologue suggests themes of memory and identity that weren't particularly evident as the story progressed. However, the book is rich in social detail, including the teenagers' socially networked world, and warmed by O'Nan's customary tenderness for ordinary lives. Everyday People was the title of one of his first great novels, in 2001, and depicting everyday people with sensitive acuity remains one of his principal artistic achievements here. Not one of this gifted author's best, though it's finely rendered with poignant realism. Copyright Kirkus 2021 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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