Nye’s debut novel (following a book of short stories, Strategies Against Extinction, 2012) is the story of Owen Webb, a basketball player on scholarship at a private boys’ school, and his relationship with two enigmatic men: his father, whose dramatic secrets neither Owen nor his mother suspect, and Carson, an older teen.
This is a coming-of-age story with mysterious twists, a sports buddy novel that is surprisingly sensitive, and a novel of manners contrasting the aspirations of a dysfunctional middle-class family in 1990s Cincinnati with the over-the-top wealth of another dysfunctional family. It is both an appealing read and an introspective examination of the turbulence of male adolescence. Owen embodies a full range of emotions, exhibiting vulnerability and tenderness but also a raw desire to fight. As the first-person narrator, he doesn’t present the other characters as fully, but what he does say is revealing, especially as he begins to suspect Carson is not a role model. Awkward phrasing sometimes disrupts the prose—“Every appliance was a pristine stainless steel, and there seemed to be more oak cabinets than would be needed for a restaurant”—but other passages are beautiful: “I turned off the television and sat in the dark and thought about how my father had never tried to explain himself, justify his behavior, make any sense of it at all. He could express the remorse, say the platitudes, but even in the moment his words felt hollow. It’s like a part of being a fully formed human didn’t exist in him.” Even with such musings, the story is well-paced, with a sense of possibility rather than a set conclusion.
Just as Nye’s characters are glued to the O.J. Simpson trial, readers won’t want to look away.