Centerville by Karen Osborn, Paperback | Barnes & Noble


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by Karen Osborn

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Set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and the escalating Vietnam War, Centerville forms an engrossing meditation on the complex questions that arise in the wake of senseless violence.


Set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and the escalating Vietnam War, Centerville forms an engrossing meditation on the complex questions that arise in the wake of senseless violence.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Osborn’s powerful novel, set during the dog days of summer in a small Midwestern town in 1967, begins with a bang when a man bombs the drugstore employing his estranged wife. The tragedy devastates a community just beginning to feel the repercussions of the escalating Vietnam War and the growing civil rights movement, and Osborn focuses on four individuals to map the intersections of local drama and a world in upheaval. Already troubled by decisions confronting members of his flock, a minister falls from grace when the presumed dead bomber surreptitiously seeks his counsel. The minister’s own daughter narrowly escaped the bombing, a coincidence that leaves her confused and ignites her adolescent anger and angst, framing her as a compelling window into the ’60s youth movement. The druggist’s widow quells her grief with an act of redemptive creation, and a policeman desperately hunts the bomber, all the while struggling to train the force’s first black officer amid an atmosphere of casual racism. Osborn (Patchwork), employing a restrained ruthlessness, maintains the tension throughout, and appropriately refuses easy outs for a satisfying conclusion. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"A unique novel of smalltown America that begins with an explosion so wonderfully described you won't be able to put the book down. Karen Osborn combines considerable literary gifts with a storyteller's skills to produce the unforgettable Centerville."
Anita Shreve, author of Resistance, The Weight of Water, and Rescue

“It’s the summer of 1967; the news is awash with race riots and the escalating war in Vietnam. In the aftermath of a brutal and premeditated act of violence, the residents of a somnolent American town find themselves in a new world full of menace and fear. Karen Osborn’s deeply affecting novel Centerville keeps the incomprehensibility of evil always in focus, as her characters - young, old, brave, cowardly, driven by doubt, and committed to faith - struggle to find a way back to the innocence they once took for granted. In this subtle, beautifully written novel, the reader can almost hear the gates of paradise slamming closed on the American dream.”      
Valerie Martin is the author of nine novels, including Trespass, Mary Reilly, Italian Fever, and Property, three collections of short fiction, and a biography of St. Francis of Assisi, titled Salvation.

"Most writers would stumble over the top describing a blast that literally explodes the personality of a small town. In the hands of a master of craft, like Karen Osborn, devastation is rendered with devastating restraint. You may try to forget Centerville, but you never will." 
Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean

"As with In Cold Blood or The Sweet Heareafter, Karen Osborn's beautifully written Centerville uses a single, horrific, small-town act of violence to dissect the values and morals of an entire culture—a culture that is at once violent and brutal, materialistic and superficial, yet capable of moments of heroism, compassion, and redemption. When a novel seems as if its subject isn't past at all but rather pulled right from America's latest cycle of mass murder and senseless carnage, and when that novel does it with Osborn's brilliant prose and deep insight into the dark alleys of our twisted nature, then we can rejoice that perhaps there’s still a chance, albeit a small one, for the human race."
Michael White, author of Beautiful Assassin and Soul Catcher

Library Journal
Osborn (Patchwork; River Road) opens her novel in a small, quaint, Jan Karon-style town in 1967, then has a vengeful ex-husband set off a bomb in the drugstore where his former wife works. Centerville is quickly transformed into a devastated community of residents trying to understand how this could have happened and figure out how to put their lives back together. The story is told from the points of view of four survivors: the reverend who married the murderer and his wife years ago; his teenage daughter, who almost entered the drugstore at the time of the disaster; a victim's widow, who now has three children to raise on her own; and a police officer who was at the scene of the tragedy. VERDICT Lovers of realistic fiction will be pulled into this tiny town to experience its loss and confusion along with its residents. Osborn portrays the emotions surrounding this destructive event in a heartfelt and vivid style, while leaving room for the hope of regrowth and recovery.—Katie Wernz, Kent State Univ. Lib., OH

Product Details

West Virginia University Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st Edition
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
3 Months

Meet the Author

Karen Osborn is the author of three previous novels, Patchwork (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), Between Earth and Sky, and The River Road. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with her husband and teaches fiction writing at Mt. Holyoke College and Fairfield University. While growing up in the Midwest, she witnessed a bombing and the resulting conflagration in her small town.

Learn more about Karen Osborn at

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Centerville 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have read in quite a while. It depicts small town American life in the late 50's-early60's and readily shows the truths behind the perfect veneer.The author is very capable at character development and the story packs a big wallop.Interesting and grabbing...