Lead Review

  • Book: Ocean State
  • Location: Rhode Island
  • Author: Stewart O'Nan

Review Author: Tina Hartas




Well, the hardback book cover really caught my eye, so I picked this novel up with enthusiasm.

This is the story of mum, Carol, and of her two young daughters Angel and Marie. The novel opens with the line: “When I was in eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl“. We know the twist, what we don’t know is how it gets to that point.

This is a ramble through the lives of the females in this household, as they intersect and diverge, each person caught up in their own world, yet drawn back by family ties. Marie is busy eating pizza and working out how to leave some in the fridge so that she won’t get chastised for downing too much and not sharing (money is short). Angel is dating Myles, but fellow school mate Birdy is dating him too. The prose is quite photographic, in that it pans around their lives, as they travel across Rhode Island, homing in on their individual ways of being, the lens then drawing out as they meet with friends. School is still central for the girls, and youthful encounters cause swift switchbacks, changing their hopes for the future. Mum is currently dating a man who lives in sheltered accommodation, perhaps too close for comfort as she works in a care home.

The writing is really excellent. However the YA vibe at times didn’t really grab me – the text messaging flummoxed me and it took me a while to work out the meaning (but, hey, so says someone of more mature years). I have to be honest, I found the passages, as they expanded and gained flesht, were wonderfully detailed around life and environment and often very well observed. On several occasions, though, I found myself retracing my proverbial reading steps to check out which character was being referenced. It felt like the author was making a point of being elusive. There was a sense I was going down rabbit holes – which was very enjoyable whilst it lasted – but there came a point when I was brought up short and felt I had misconstrued the who, what and where. I guess the confusion reflects family life, with familial shorthands, people melding and blending. People are confusing, their actions discombobulating and this is reflected – for better or worse – in the narrative.

An interesting read, maybe a touch overly clever, that ultimately erred on the side of being just a little bland and slippery, despite the constructs.


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