Ocean State

Grove Atlantic. Mar. 2022. 240p. ISBN 9780802159274. $27. F
The latest by prolific novelist O’Nan (Emily, Alone) starts with a murder. From the first sentence, readers know who was murdered and by whom; the rest of the book builds up to the murder, tracing the lives, actions, and feelings of the murderer, 18-year-old Angel; her mother Carol; her victim, Birdie, also 18; and Angel’s younger sister Marie, who observes the tragedy as it unfolds and then looks back on it years later. By then, everyone has patched together their torn-apart lives but none of them is ever the same. The novel is about a killing, but it’s not violence or the catching of the killers—Angel and her boyfriend—that is its center. Rather, it’s about blue-collar life in Rhode Island, and the slights and insecurities that come along with it. And here we are on familiar territory for the novelist, who’s one of the premier chroniclers of the everyday lives, joys, and regrets of ordinary working-class people.
VERDICT Readers who enjoy the fiction of Elizabeth Strout or Kent Haruf will love this book, which shows a big heart without a whiff of sentimentality.
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