Stefan Merrill Block
January 16, 2018
A family in crisis, a town torn apart, and the boy who holds the secret has been cocooned in a coma for ten years.
One warm, West Texas November night, a shy boy named Oliver Loving joins his classmates at Bliss County Day School’s annual dance, hoping for a glimpse of the object of his unrequited affections, an enigmatic Junior named Rebekkah Sterling. But as the music plays, a troubled young man sneaks in through the school’s back door. The dire choices this man makes that evening —and the unspoken story he carries— will tear the town of Bliss, Texas apart.
Nearly ten years later, Oliver Loving still lies wordless and paralyzed at Crockett State Assisted Care Facility, the fate of his mind unclear. Orbiting the stillpoint of Oliver’s hospital bed is a family transformed: Oliver’s mother, Eve, who keeps desperate vigil; Oliver’s brother, Charlie, who has fled for New York City only to discover he cannot escape the gravity of his shattered family; Oliver’s father, Jed, who tries to erase his memories with bourbon. And then there is Rebekkah Sterling, Oliver’s teenage love, who left Texas long ago and still refuses to speak about her own part in that tragic night. When a new medical test promises a key to unlock Oliver’s trapped mind, the town’s unanswered questions resurface with new urgency, as Oliver’s doctors and his family fight for a way for Oliver to finally communicate— and so also to tell the truth of what really happened that fateful night.
A moving meditation on the transformative power of grief and love, a slyly affectionate look at the idiosyncrasies of family, and an emotionally-charged page-turner, Stefan Merill Block’s Oliver Loving is an extraordinarily original novel that ventures into the unknowable and returns with the most fundamental truths.
SASCHA DARLINGTON’S REVIEW
This has to be one of the most beautifully written novels I’ve read in a very long time. The prose has a rhythm to it that is mesmerizing, drawing the reader into a seeming dream that eventually becomes a nightmare.
Stefan Merill Block’s Oliver Loving takes on what the public seems to have become inured to, a school shooting, and raises the bar. Oliver Loving, the oldest and beloved son of Eve Loving, lies unable to move in a nursing facility where, typically, people put their elderly relatives to die. But Eve is unwilling to let Oliver go. She knows that he’s in there somewhere.
It takes the youngest son, Charlie, to ask: what if he has been in there? What if he’s been conscious, able to hear and think? What then? Which is not something Eve wants to think about, nor anyone else really.
There is no question as to who did the shooting, but one question is why. People are quick to become angry, point fingers, blaming it on Latinos, although he was American born. As the story continues to unfold, with bits of information disseminated along the way, it becomes obvious that nothing is easily explained. And when the truth is finally revealed, many people must look inward for what they chose and chose not to see in their community.
Block cares about the characters in his novel. No one is written off. Each is dealt with kindly. I found this refreshing in a world which wants to turn the gray to black and white. A drunk is not just a drunk, he is above all a person with layers and feelings and remorse and joy.
Perhaps the biggest endorsement for me of Oliver Loving is that I continued to think about it for long after I’d read the last page.
If you’re a fan of thoughtful, literary fiction, I think you’ll love this book. In fact, if you’re a reader of any kind and love words well written, read this book.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Oliver Loving went on sale today, January 16.
5 out of 5 butterflies