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Chances Are...

Review

Chances Are...

Early in CHANCES ARE…, Richard Russo’s baby boomer-themed book, one character ruminates on his college experience and the impact of fate upon his life: “[Y]ank out one thread from the fabric of human destiny, and everything unravels.” Writing his first stand-alone novel in a decade, Russo examines the role of chance in shaping our lives through an exploration of three former college roommates --- children of the ’60s who have reunited in the fall of 2015 on Martha’s Vineyard for a gathering that soon spins into an investigation focusing on an unsolved mystery from their last meeting.

Russo brings a storied history of writing achievement to CHANCES ARE…. With eight previous novels, two short story collections, a book of essays and a memoir, as well as a Pulitzer Prize and France’s Grand Prix de Littérature Américaine, he certainly ranks as one of America’s finest authors. His latest is truly a guy novel, appealing to men of the Vietnam era, who will find many shared experiences with the male characters who dominate this story.

"[Russo's] latest is truly a guy novel, appealing to men of the Vietnam era, who will find many shared experiences with the male characters who dominate this story."

The 66-year-old friends who have gathered for their mini-reunion are Teddy Novak, who turns writers’ failed efforts at books into finished products; Mickey Girardi, a musician whose life is marked by his flight to Canada during the Vietnam War; and Lincoln Moser, who inherited the Martha’s Vineyard house where they will meet one more time before it is sold. They had been roommates at the fictional Minerva College, a small Connecticut university, and celebrated their graduation at this same house. That evening, something happened that would forever impact their lives.

Returning to the Vineyard brings back those memories. Now, decades later, they seek closure. The book’s title refers to the Johnny Mathis ballad of love and lost love. For Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey, their lost love is Jacy Calloway, a fellow student and mysterious woman who was the object of affection for all three of them. Forty years ago, she was at the Vineyard for the weekend but then vanished the next day. All sorts of questions surround her disappearance, and CHANCES ARE… is a recounting of how the men solve that decades-old mystery.

In Russo’s novels, his male characters are an interesting lot. They come from diverse economic backgrounds, professions and walks of life. But they often share traits that are wide enough for readers to appreciate and recognize as similar to their own. Russo expertly moves between the book’s two foundational events: those surrounding Jacy’s disappearance and the present-day reunion of 2015. Along the way, he offers more insight into the lives of Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey, and their growth into mature men. The novel is a thoughtful essay on both friendship and nostalgia.

Many readers from my generation may find one event depicted here unforgettable. In 1969, as opposition to the Vietnam War grew, Congress reinstated a lottery to determine which men would be drafted into military service. Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey, along with many of their college classmates, faced that evening with fear and foreboding. Russo, who is 70 years old, certainly experienced that lottery in his college days. His depiction of it and how it impacted the lives of his three characters is vividly presented on these pages. I know of no other way to discuss those scenes, except to say that having also been a participant in that moment of history, Russo’s portrayal brought back haunting memories.

In the end, the reasons for Jacy’s disappearance come to light, and I will leave it to the novel to provide the solution. While readers learn quite a bit about Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey, Jacy remains almost as much of a mystery at the end as when she is introduced. Preserving the female as an enigmatic character is perhaps the most crucial element of this male-dominated story.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on August 2, 2019

Chances Are...
by Richard Russo

  • Publication Date: July 30, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 1101947748
  • ISBN-13: 9781101947746