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March 18, 2022

George Ernsberger
Posted 3/18/22

Ocean State by Stewart O’Nan (Grove).

O’Nan is often attentive, as here, to working class life, which it’s clear he knows; he lives in it with us. I don’t recall another …

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About Books

March 18, 2022


Ocean State by Stewart O’Nan (Grove).

O’Nan is often attentive, as here, to working class life, which it’s clear he knows; he lives in it with us. I don’t recall another example where he writes in close point of view of women characters, as he does here—four different ones—but here, it’s at once so convincing and so empathetic as to constitute at least a great gift; a male reader, at least, enjoys the ride. The Ocean State is Rhode Island, and the setting in time is 2009, when much of the eastern part of the U.S. is struggling with post-industrial malaise. The mill that had been the economic center of the small town, here, is idle and crumbling, and its workers are scrabbling at whatever they can latch onto. There’s a murder in this book, right up front (the women are teen-agers); but there’s no mystery to be solved. Just, much to be understood.

Like A Sister by Kellye Garrett (Mulholland/Little, Brown).

Clearly a breakout book for Garrett. She’s formerly a TV writer, who then wrote some cozy mystery novels in that milieu, but has now pulled off a very strong, vividly characterized all-out thriller—plus, deeply felt family novel—set in our end of the country (in the Bronx, mostly). Twisty (a word this column has recently overused, regrettably) and gut-punch are being said about this one, and rightly (along with, yeah, breakout).

Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu (Little, Brown).

Beautifully made historical novel and family novel, a first novel but in no sense a memoir. You don’t write a whole big book—the story begins in Changsha, Hunan Province, in 1938; ends in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2000—in present tense unless you know both how that’s done and why it’s the best choice for this one; that’s the decision of a novelist. We have been, as this column has observed before, a little slow at recognizing the depth of the American-ness, as well as the Asian-ness, of Americans of Asian descent. That is not a point insistently argued for, here, but it may well find you, and you it.

Drowning Practice by Mike Meginnis (Ecco).

A crazy-sounding in the description, but intelligent and even reassuring, something-like-science fiction novel about the end of the world. Unless it isn’t. Everybody on Earth has the same dream, that the world will come to an end in just a few months. The variety of reactions to this news (if that’s what it is) is enormously varied, of course, and many of the variations are seen, here; but we remain in the company (and point of view) of a divorced mother and her daughter, who undertake a road trip to make, for the daughter at least, the rest of her life if not enjoyable, at least enriching. Philosophical points are made, or anyway implied, but this is first and foremost a relationship novel, and moving—and, by the way, the farthest thing from depressing.


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