In Chances Are . . . the latest novel by Richard Russo, three friends are getting together on Cape Cod 44 years after they celebrated having graduated from college at the same location. Worthy of a full-length novel? Not until you discover that the co-ed who joined them on the prior occasion was never seen again after leaving the sea-side cottage the morning they all departed for unknown futures.
A mystery? Yes, but in the hands of Richard Russo what we have is so much more than a whodounit. Russo’s skill at bringing the depth of his characters’ beings to the surface and hooking us on them is what makes him unique among modern novelists. He is able to keep us as much interested in these average guys as does our anxiety to learn what happened to young Jacy.
As you read on, you can be sure that the mystery will be resolved and the characters will be changed—at least one for the better––as a consequence of this old guys (66 feeling old for them at the time) reunion. In the process you will accompany Russo on his subtle explication of our culture––on male-female and parent-child relationships, on friendship and how we often don’t know who we are until life forces us to face the music.
The author of eight previous novels, including the Pulitzer Price winning Empire Falls, Russo is of particular interest to me as we grew up in the same upstate New York city and, as a result, we share something of the cultural background that makes us who we are. We know small-town post WWII America––its pluses and minuses.
The characters of Chances Are . . . are of the generation when many were the first of their families to attend college and then to gain the status of professional careers. It was a time of meritocratic opportunity for white Americans, which also meant some fell through the cracks or didn’t fulfill the ambitions they imagined for themselves. It was also a time of radical cultural change––the emergence of a rock and roll drug-heightened emotional ride brought to earth by the war in Vietnam and the draft.
All the above and more make Chances Are . . . worthy of more kuddos for Russo and a satisfying experience for its readers.