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CHANCES ARE . . . by Richard Russo Kirkus Star


by Richard Russo

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-101-94774-6
Publisher: Knopf

A reunion on Martha's Vineyard reopens old mysteries and wounds for three Vietnam-era college friends.

Russo's (The Destiny Thief, 2018, etc.) 14th book blends everything we love about this author with something new. Yes, this is a novel about male friendship, fathers and sons, small-town class issues, and lifelong crushes, and it provides the familiar pleasure of immersion in the author's distinctive, richly observed world and his inimitable ironic voice. But this is also a mystery about a 1971 cold case. At the center of it is one of Russo's impossibly magical women, one Jacy Rockafellow, who graduated Minerva College in Connecticut that year with three "hashers"—scholarship students who worked in the dining hall of her sorority and were also her closest friends. Mickey is the son of a West Haven construction worker, Teddy the offspring of Midwestern high school teachers, and Lincoln comes from Dunbar, Arizona, the only child of a tiny tyrant named Wolfgang Amadeus Moser—Dub Yay to his friends—and his downtrodden, docile wife, Trudy. Dub Yay announces that in order for Lincoln to go to college at a small East Coast liberal arts school, he, Dub Yay, would have to be dead. "A statement that was clearly designed to end this conversation, so Lincoln was surprised to see on his mother's face an unfamiliar expression that suggested she'd contemplated her husband's mortality with equanimity and was undeterred." Vintage Russo. All three boys are head over heels in love with Jacy, who is engaged to someone named Vance, Chance, or Lance, whom she seems to care about not a whit. Midway through their college years, the draft lottery occurs; one of the boys gets a very low number and is certain to be called up. A farewell weekend at Lincoln's mother's beach house on Martha's Vineyard turns out to be the last time Jacy is ever seen or heard of. When the three boys reunite there as 66-year-old men, they can't think of anything but her; cherchez la femme. No one understands men better than Russo, and no one is more eloquent in explaining how they think, suffer, and love.

At a rough time for masculinity, Russo's flawed but always decent characters are repositories of the classic virtues of their gender.