Thanks to Netgalley, I had the opportunity to give this book a pre-read before it is released today. There’s a lot of hype about the book and I will be interested to see what the overall reaction is.
As for my take, this is a great book. I gave it 5-stars, which I almost never do. Ohio is an absorbing book that does what a great book should do, which is to transport you to a place and time and let you live there among the characters, who are as real as they could be.
The book should come with a warning. It is dark. I mean dark. If you are one of those people who sees the last days of Rome when you look around the world today, then you’re going to find yourself at home in Ohio. This is the perfect book for the Trump age. (Conversely, if you’re in the Fox News/MAGA crowd, then I suspect you might well find this book degrading).
I liken it to a kind of American Graffiti meets the 2016 election meets Hillbilly Elegy, except in a dying Ohio steel town, not a dying Ohio mill town. It’s a story about a group of people who meet in high school in the previously mentioned steel town and takes place both in the high school timeframe and then years later.
You know the tableau. This is the post 9/11 generation. They are victims–directly–of the Great Recession, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the opiate crisis. Oh, and victims of growing up in a dead town–think, Steubenville–and their future isn’t looking too bright.
I am not one for plot summaries, except to say that this book is expertly plotted. Without giving any of it up, I will just advise you to hang on tight. The two swathes of time carry the story and reveal plot developments as softly as a brush on canvas. For all of Ohio’s disturbing trip down through the “dark corner of the American Experiment,” (Wire reference) the last 100 pages and chock full of drama that would work in any thriller.
I don’t live in a small town, so that was one way that I was transported to a place that was unfamiliar to me. The other was what I would call, for lack of a better term, “high school culture.” I understand that for a lot of people, high school is not just the key act in life’s drama, but the music that plays in the background the rest of the time. High School–who dated who, who played football, who dumped who, who cheated on who, that night someone got so high or drunk…and the fucking, oh man…anyway, it had impact and gravity to some people. A lot of them.
I was not in that group. Nobody I knew was in that group. So, I got a look at that as well.
I am from Ohio, where I have lived most of my life. The book mentions Toledo (where I live now), Bowling Green (where I went to college) and Van Wert, which might be a bigger shithole than any of those towns over in the eastern part of the state.
I have a couple more posts coming out of this book, but in the meantime, I can’t recommend this book enough. It won’t make you feel good, but that’s not the job of art. It will make you feel something though, which is the job of art.