Review of Chances Are

Chances Are

Richard Russo

Knopf

July 30, 2019


Blurb: From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls comes a new revelation: a riveting story about the abiding yet complex power of friendship.

One beautiful September day, three men convene on Martha’s Vineyard, friends ever since meeting in college circa the sixties. They couldn’t have been more different then, or even today–Lincoln’s a commercial real estate broker, Teddy a tiny-press publisher, and Mickey a musician beyond his rockin’ age. But each man holds his own secrets, in addition to the monumental mystery that none of them has ever stopped puzzling over since a Memorial Day weekend right here on the Vineyard in 1971: the disappearance of the woman each of them loved–Jacy Calloway Now, more than forty years later, as this new weekend unfolds, three lives are displayed in their entirety while the distant past confounds the present like a relentless squall of surprise and discovery. Shot through with Russo’s trademark comedy and humanity, Chances Are . . . also introduces a new level of suspense and menace that will quicken the reader’s heartbeat throughout this absorbing saga of how friendship’s bonds are every bit as constricting and rewarding as those of family or any other community.
     For both longtime fans and lucky newcomers, Chances Are . . . is a stunning demonstration of a highly acclaimed author deepening and expanding his remarkable achievement.

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I’ve been reading Richard Russo ever since I saw the miniseries Empire Falls. Over the years, I’ve read (mostly listened to) his books, loving the insight into the human condition that has always been tinged with more than a little humor. While his latest novel, Chances Are, doesn’t feel as humorous as his previous novels, it is still rich with characterization and insightful observations about people.

Chances Are examines the lives of Lincoln, Teddy, and Mickey who were scholarship students at the elite Minerva College. At first, it appears that Chances Are is a mystery as Lincoln and Teddy, both returning to Martha’s Vineyard at the age of 66, focus on what happened some 40 years before, especially to Jacy, the young woman that the three scholarship students loved, who disappeared after a weekend at Lincoln’s family’s cottage, never to be heard from again.

While it would seem that Jacy’s disappearance is the mystery at the heart of the novel, the real mystery is friendship–relationships–more precisely, and how do you really know another person and sometimes even yourself. The question arises over and over again with characters thinking that they know another person, especially someone considered a friend, only to discover that they don’t. Or they question what they thought they knew and realize that they know little to nothing. All people have secrets and put forth a facade which may or may not be true.

Russo is a master of characterization. All of the characters in this novel feel like they could be real people. The retired sheriff drinks too much because he’s felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, his past mistakes, the behavior of his son. The pervy man who may be an abusive misogynist, may just be something else again. And, elsewhere, a seeming drunkard is not a floundering fool but someone dying from a genetic disease.

Jacy reminds me of female characters who pop up from time to time, like Brett Ashley from The Sun Also Rises, who all the men love but who is never really possessed by any of them, not because of herself, but because of them. But Jacy’s story is only told second-hand and it’s ultimately heart-breaking. Tangentially, The Sun Also Rises doesn’t come to my mind as a lark but because of a similarity of the relationship of Teddy and Jacy to Jake and Brett.

Chances Are demonstrates very clearly how people are sculpted by their parents. Lincoln becomes his father; Teddy emulates his parents; and Mickey, well, he wants to be the son his parents can be proud of but he’s never lived up to their expectations, and ultimately feels like he’s failed his father.

As I was reading, I tried to determine who was the central character because, even though there are three, maybe four if you count Jacy’s, narratives, usually there’s one character who’s more prevalent.

At first, I thought it might be Lincoln. We follow him quite a bit through the novel. He would seem to be a voice of reason, but I never came away “liking” him. He listened to his mother tell him truths yet he doubted her. And then he became his father despite the fact that he wondered if his mother had ever known happiness.

And then there’s Teddy. He’s an adjunct professor and an editor who might be soon losing his job because Theresa, the woman who believed in him and whom he might be more than a little in love with, has accepted a job elsewhere. But Teddy is not a fighter and has a secret that he keeps close to his chest for far too long.

Ultimately, my favorite character was Mickey, but I’m sure he’s not supposed to be. Both Lincoln and Teddy upon seeing Mickey for the first time in many, many years surmise that he hasn’t changed, but he has. He’s changed probably more than either of them. He’s known true heartache and despair and yet does the one thing he loves most of all—makes music.

I somehow feel as if I could keep writing about this novel. It’s affecting. Maybe because it’s part of our time and also part of time when things seemed simpler even though they were bad.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.


rating:

4-and-a-half

4 butterflies and a ladybug out of 5 butterflies


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3 replies »

  1. First, love the cover! And then, characters who are in their 60″s! Wow. That alone makes me want to read it. Thanks for the review.

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