Blanche’s Blanche Book: ‘Ohio’.

Why is it so cold though? I know that there are parts of the country that are much colder than how it’s been in Austin the last few days, and if you live in any of those parts, I will NEVER understand how you function in the winter months.

Yesterday, my toes actually went numb while I was at my desk. I felt like I couldn’t warm up all day and when I went to bed, I had my electric blanket on high and snuggled up with one of those microwaveable heating pads.

I’m currently dressed in a complete sweatsuit with socks and slippers… BRR, y’all!

Anyway, let’s have a talk about this week’s latest read, “Ohio” by Stephen Markley. Here is the book’s description from Amazon:

The debut of a major talent; a lyrical and emotional novel set in an archetypal small town in northeastern Ohio—a region ravaged by the Great Recession, an opioid crisis, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—depicting one feverish, fateful summer night in 2013 when four former classmates converge on their hometown, each with a mission, all haunted by the ghosts of their shared histories.

Since the turn of the century, a generation has come of age knowing only war, recession, political gridlock, racial hostility, and a simmering fear of environmental calamity. In the country’s forgotten pockets, where industry long ago fled, where foreclosures, Walmarts, and opiates riddle the land, death rates for rural whites have skyrocketed, fueled by suicide, addiction and a rampant sense of marginalization and disillusionment. This is the world the characters in Stephen Markley’s brilliant debut novel, Ohio, inherit. This is New Canaan.

On one fateful summer night in 2013, four former classmates converge on the rust belt town where they grew up, each of them with a mission, all of them haunted by regrets, secrets, lost loves. There’s Bill Ashcraft, an alcoholic, drug-abusing activist, whose fruitless ambitions have taken him from Cambodia to Zuccotti Park to New Orleans, and now back to “The Cane” with a mysterious package strapped to the underside of his truck; Stacey Moore, a doctoral candidate reluctantly confronting the mother of her former lover; Dan Eaton, a shy veteran of three tours in Iraq, home for a dinner date with the high school sweetheart he’s tried to forget; and the beautiful, fragile Tina Ross, whose rendezvous with the captain of the football team triggers the novel’s shocking climax.

At once a murder mystery and a social critique, Ohio ingeniously captures the fractured zeitgeist of a nation through the viewfinder of an embattled Midwestern town and offers a prescient vision for America at the dawn of a turbulent new age.

Funny story about this book, I saw it on Instagram – just the cover – and I HAD to have it. I looked it up and the library and not only did they have a copy, but it was on the shelf (according to the computer).

But, when I went to look on the shelf, it wasn’t there. I asked for help from a librarian and she couldn’t find it either, and this whole scenario actually happened AGAIN a few weeks later because I felt like I just HAD TO HAVE this book!

When the second librarian couldn’t find it, she offered up the large-print edition, so I went with that.

Now, having said all of that… I didn’t finish this book.

It’s the first book in at least six years that I haven’t finished. Not finishing books is something extensively talked about on my favorite reading podcast, “What Should I Read Next?”

Some people have no problem quitting a book if it’s not pulling them in, and I can totally understand this side. After all, there’s SO many books out there to read. My list at the library right now is 129 books with an additional three on reserve.

But there’s a part of me that feels incredibly guilty. With this one, I made it more than halfway through… but when it came time to picking it up and finishing it, I realized I didn’t care about any of the characters. So, what was the point in seeing how their story ends?

Growing up in the Midwest, I have a soft spot for the stories that grow from the heartland. Among the fields and country roads, Midwesterners share a unique bond. I have fond memories of my childhood there, and over the years I’ve caught myself daydreaming about the summers I had, the thrill of driving with the windows down, and the carefree nature of small town life.

Like the characters in “Ohio”, I’ve gone back to visit my hometown.

And it’s a darkness I’ve tried so hard to describe on this blog many times. My childhood home is dirty and settled after a flood ripped through my old neighborhood.

The places I once frequented are mostly ghosted or completely gone now; classmates are married, moved, or dead. There are drug busts and DUIs in the local paper, among tragedies no one talks about.

There’s heartbreak I’ve tried to rekindle, way too many times. In places, the culture of our class of 2003 is still very much alive. It’s a place I wanted so badly to fit into 20 years ago, and now a place I’m glad I got away from.

The characters in “Ohio” have similar stories, but none of it sounded authentic to me. And that’s when I realized that I don’t need to read a story about stuff I’ve lived. And for that reason, I’m not recommending this book to anyone.

If you’re looking for true, informed books about drugs and addiction try:

If you’re looking for the Midwest, teenage experience, read anything by John Green.

So, there it is. But, I am SO excited to read the next book on the list for Blanche’s Book Club, which is “The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah.

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2 Comments

  1. Nowhere Tribune

    I used to make myself finish books, but as I get older I’m less willing to spend time reading anything I’m not interested in. I’d rather read the same books over again, which I do too often. I live in North Texas, so it’s a tad colder here. But it always feels colder down in your area; that moisture in the air does chill your bones!

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