Thursday, August 15, 2019

Chances Are - Richard Russo

Richard Russo is one of those writers who has not felt compelled to publish a novel every year just because so many of us have come to expect that from our favorite authors – and his slower pace is reflected in the consistently high quality of his work. Russo, who was first published in 1986 (Mohawk), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction some sixteen years later with what was only his fifth book, Empire FallsChances Areis only his ninth novel (he has also published two short story collections, a memoir, and a collection of essays) in a career that now spans something like thirty-five years. And it is one very fine novel.

It’s September, and most of the tourists and summer residents have finally packed up and left Martha’s Vineyard for another year. But three sixty-six-year-old men, friends since they first met as college freshmen, have decided to spend a weekend on the island catching up and reminiscing about the experiences they shared in the crazy 1960s. The men are still close friends but have not been together for ten years, so there is a lot to talk about. The real question is how willing they are to share some of the secrets they’ve been hiding from each other.

Lincoln is now a commercial real estate broker in Las Vegas where he lives with his wife, the mother of his six children. As he tells it, he is financially comfortable now, but he was a much richer man in 2008 before the crash. Consequently, Lincoln is under some pressure to sell the Martha’s Vineyard property he inherited from his mother. Teddy is an academic who runs a tiny press for a university in Syracuse and has discovered that he is very good at fixing things – especially broken books. Mickey, who lives in nearby Cape Cod, is a musician who fronts a regionally-popular band and enjoys much the same lifestyle that he has lived since he was in his twenties.  Of the three men, he is the one who seems to have changed the least since they went to school together in Connecticut.

Richard Russo
However, there is someone missing from this reunion, and all three men feel her absence deep down inside themselves. Jacy was the sorority girl they were all in love with, each of them secretly hoping that he would be the one Jacy chose to spend the rest of her life with – despite how guilty they still feel about having been so willing to betray the trust and friendship of the other two Musketeers if that’s what it took to win Jacy’s love. But then, in 1971 during their last weekend together, Jacy disappeared from the island, never to be heard from again, and that kind of betrayal became unnecessary. 

What, though, happened to Jacy? Her disappearance was never solved, and when Lincoln starts asking questions about that weekend, disturbing answers begin to surface.

Chances Are, despite the unsolved mystery it centers itself around, is not really a mystery novel. Rather, it is a literary novel that depends on its exceptionally well-developed characters to keep its readers turning pages. Russo proves himself to be such a master of misdirection here that his readers are certain to be fascinated as the author subtly reveals one clue after the other about who Lincoln, Teddy, Mickey, and Jacy are and how they became those people. And, too, this one has one of the most satisfying and well-written endings that I’ve read so far this year. Chances Are is one I’ll be recommending to my friends for years to come.


  1. This is on my list because I like Russo, and I've seen some good reviews of this latest one.

    1. If you've enjoyed Russo's past novels, Jenclair, I think you'll probably love this one. Of course, I more easily identified with the main characters than you likely will, and that helps a lot in any novel. But the writing is just so good that I think anybody regular reader of serious fiction will go for this one.