by Stephen Markley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501174476
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/21/2018
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 19,956
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Stephen Markley is an author, screenwriter, and journalist. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Markley’s previous books include the novel Ohio, the memoir Publish This Book: The Unbelievable True Story of How I Wrote, Sold, and Published This Very Book, and the travelogue Tales of Iceland. He lives in Los Angeles.

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  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for Ohio includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Stephen Markley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

    Since the turn of the century, a generation has come of age knowing only war, recession, political gridlock, racial hostility, and a simmering fear of environmental calamity. In the country’s forgotten pockets, where industry long ago fled, where foreclosures, Walmarts, and opiates riddle the land, death rates for rural whites have skyrocketed, fueled by suicide, addiction and a rampant sense of marginalization and disillusionment. This is the world the characters in Stephen Markley’s brilliant debut novel, Ohio, inherit. This is New Canaan.

    On one fateful summer night in 2013, four former classmates converge on the rust belt town where they grew up, each of them with a mission, all of them haunted by regrets, secrets, lost loves. There’s Bill Ashcraft, an alcoholic, drug-abusing activist, whose fruitless ambitions have taken him from Cambodia to Zuccotti Park to New Orleans, and now back to “The Cane” with a mysterious package strapped to the underside of his truck; Stacey Moore, a doctoral candidate reluctantly confronting the mother of her former lover; Dan Eaton, a shy veteran of three tours in Iraq, home for a dinner date with the high school sweetheart he’s tried to forget; and the beautiful, fragile Tina Ross, whose rendezvous with the captain of the football team triggers the novel’s shocking climax.

    At once a murder mystery and a social critique, Ohio ingeniously captures the fractured zeitgeist of a nation through the viewfinder of an embattled Midwestern town and offers a prescient vision for America at the dawn of a turbulent new age.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. Discuss your first impressions of New Canaan in the prelude. How are these impressions reinforced—or changed—throughout the course of the novel?

    2. Consider the structure of the novel—how imperative do you feel it is to the reading experience?

    3. “In them, I see the world that’s coming. The world we’re being banished to” (477). In what ways might the novel’s events feel microcosmic to current events and politics?

    4. Consider Bill Ashcraft’s “T-shirt incident” which unites many of the novel’s central characters. How does this incident echo throughout the novel? How does it define Bill? Also, discuss the incident from the other characters’ points of view.

    5. “In the last decade, everyone had learned to be a truth masseuse” (106). Discuss the novel in the frame of “post-truth.” Are the narrators reliable? Consider the different angles and perspectives in which we view the characters and their stories. How do these alternating views affect your overall perception of the characters?

    6. Ohio is a novel fraught with power dynamics between its characters. How do they differ between the men and the women?

    7. “Because people only act—they only change—with a gun to their head” (125) says Bill. Do you think this statement is true in regards to the characters of Ohio? Do you think any of the characters grew or changed for the better from who they were in high school? Contrast this bleak statement with the optimistic words of Mr. Clifton later on in the novel: “I see some of you kids I had in class years and years ago, and I can never believe the way you grow into yourselves as adults...It still makes me want to cry tears of joy every time” (232).

    8. When driving with Bill through town, Dan observes that “New Canaan was one of the minor places that bore the aftershocks of deindustrialization” (283). How else do we see these aftershocks manifest on both macro and micro levels?

    9. Hilde tells Stacey that she often makes “self-denigrating comments” towards her “bumblefuck town,’” and advises her to “break yourself of that habit. You’re here. You’re curious about the world” (192). How are Stacey and the other characters in the novel who do leave New Canaan—Bill, Dan, Rick, Ben—still bound to their hometown even as they explore the world? In what ways do they remain distinctly “Ohio”? What makes you think they feel this way?

    10. “Where does a girl who’s lost her religion go to find meaning? What replaces the hole that faith, cast off, leaves behind?” (214). Discuss how religion—specifically, Evangelical Christianity—permeates the lives of characters in Ohio, and what replaces “that hole” for each character.

    11. “Clichéd inspirational posters making success sound as if it had nothing to do with socioeconomics” (53). How do the characters in Ohio define success? How do their circumstances inhibit or encourage their individual definitions? Do you feel any of the characters might have been doomed from the beginning by their circumstances, or do you feel they sabotaged themselves?

    12. “If there’s a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, in the third act, it must be fired”—a “Chekhov’s gun” is a literary principle that advises writers to make sure every element in their stories comes into play at some point. Discuss how author Stephen Markley makes use of this principle. What would be the “Chekov’s guns,” so to speak, in Ohio?

    13. The heartbeat of Ohio lies in its vivid characters. Is there one you relate to most, or one that reminds you of someone you know? Discuss with your book club.

    14. Dan Eaton pins two quotes to his corkboard before he leaves for basic training: Thomas Paine’s “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it” and Abraham Lincoln’s “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” Discuss these quotes in relation to the events of the novel.

    15. “I once read this book about how literature was this vast conversation that mocked all of the borders we normally think of: state boundaries, our own life spans, continents, millenia” (191). Does Ohio hold up to this definition? What borders do you think it mocks?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Amy Goldstein’s Janesville are nonfiction accounts on many of the same themes as Ohio: deindustrialization, the economics of the Rust Belt, the cultural and political challenges faced by the Midwestern working class in the post-9/11 era—and more. Consider reading one or both of these books with your book club and discussing their parallels with Ohio.

    2. Choose an epigraph for the novel—be it a lyric, a line from a poem, a snippet from a news outlet, or anything else, find a quote that you feel captures the spirit, themes, and tone of Ohio. Share with your book club.

    3. In the novel, Dan and Hailey bond over a love of Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip inspired by and set in the same suburban Midwest where its creator, Bill Waterson, grew up. Read a few Calvin and Hobbes strips—in what ways might Calvin’s surroundings feel similar to New Canaan, and the childhoods of the characters of Ohio?

    4. The cover photograph of Ohio is one image from a photo series by Harlan Erskine. Take a look at the rest of series on Erskine’s website: http://www.harlanerskine.com/ten-convenient-stores/tencstores-3. How do the rest of the images feel evocative to the mood and motifs of Ohio?

    A Conversation with Stephen Markley

    Congratulations on your first novel. Can you talk about what lit that initial spark that inspired you to write Ohio?

    I’d been trying to write a version of this book for maybe a decade. I think many young authors typically try to explicate the place they’re from in their early work. Everyone has a sense that we need to prove where we come from matters (usually because it does). I finally began to stumble upon the framework that would become the novel after this bad night I had back home bouncing around a few bars, not unlike a few characters in the book. All I’ll say is inspiration is fickle and unpredictable.

    Did you grow up in Ohio or the Midwest yourself? If so, how did it inform the writing process—and if not, how were you able to channel such a strong sense of familiarity with a community like New Canaan?

    Yes, I did grow up in a small town in Ohio. Also, once I got my driver’s license in high school and my friends and I could sort of venture out to the surrounding towns and cities I became fascinated by the mythology of places that maybe other people wouldn’t find very fascinating: Mansfield, Cleveland, Columbus, Youngstown, Akron, and every tiny burgh and rural highway that connects them. The history, the burdens, the creepy backwoods stories—so much of it was sitting around in my head waiting to be used.

    Can you talk about your experiences in the Iowa Writer’s Workshop? Did you start working on Ohio while still a student?

    I went into Iowa extremely skeptical, to say the least, about what I’d get from the experience. Stubbornly, I never thought I’d go the MFA route, but there I found myself, and within two months, I was just chugging the Kool-Aid. I had early pieces of Ohio written before I went in, but it went through a Cambrian Explosion–style evolution once I arrived there. It was a completely life-changing experience, not only due to the people heading the classes but also because of my peers, who turned out to be a crop of such funny, fearless, brilliant people. I can’t even name names because the list is too long and full of too much dirt that would compromise people’s careers in the best kinds of ways.

    Besides a fiction writer, you also work as a screenwriter and journalist. How do these other types of writing inform your fiction?

    Probably discipline, research, and curiosity. Having always worked with a deadline, I basically can’t imagine not finishing a piece of writing when I’ve set a date to finish it. This means I’m at my desk every day working even when I’d rather not. It may sound like a small thing, but having met all the talented writers who go days, weeks, months without writing a word, I realize what an asset it is. There’s also this old Kurt Vonnegut interview banging around somewhere in which he says (I’m paraphrasing), “Great fiction writers tend to have things on their minds other than just fiction.” In other words, interviewing a healthcare policy wonk about the ramifications of the Affordable Care Act or a filmmaker working on a documentary about violence interrupters on the South Side of Chicago remains one of my best routes into fiction.

    Can you talk about what kind of research you might have done to write Ohio?

    A better question: “What kind of research did you say, ‘Eh, that might be a little much’?” Which is to say, I’m a total psycho. If I’d had any more time with the book, I would have been looking up shift change schedules at Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors plants because a fifth-string character happens to work at one. As a reader can probably tell, I spent a lot of time on the U.S. Army and the combat experience, a lot of time wandering around Walmarts striking up conversations with employees from which I’d later jank ideas. Most insanely, I practically wrote Stacey’s dissertation on ecological catastrophe in the context of the global novel only to cut 97% of it from the final draft. But for me it’s not so much getting this detail or that detail right, but in fully inhabiting the character, in seeing the world through their eyes entirely. So even if I end up cutting 97% of this thing I spent a year researching, I still have it all in mind’s eye. I get how Stacey views her interaction with a waitress spouting off an unexpected line of poetry because I’ve sunk all that time and effort into being in her brain.

    The characters of Ohio are so visceral, each so vividly alive, and strikingly unique. Can you talk about how you crafted their individual voices, created their backstories, and decided how their lives would intersect? Is there one you relate to most?

    That’s tough. You steal a little from people you know here and there, a little from your own experience, and then the rest just follows. Pretty soon, they are as alive and real to you in your head as, say, a good friend you grew up with. You can predict what they’ll do most of the time, and then at others they surprise you. It helps that I wanted each character to have a central preoccupation (as I think we all do), a wound that’s never healed, and a way of viewing the world that is distinct and hard-won. One of the most surprising scenes to write was when Bill, this brazen antiwar activist, is telling a Dan, a vet, that Dan fought these wars for nothing, that his experiences in these theaters and the people he lost to these conflicts were a waste. I had it in my head that Dan would come back at him hard, challenge him directly. But then I got to the page and Dan’s voice guided the scene elsewhere. He allows Bill keep talking and talking and suddenly the power between the two characters flips entirely. And the result, I think, is much more interesting, much more wrenching. There’s this weird thing where you have to let your characters behave as they would behave, even if it goes against what you had planned.

    Similarly, even though many of the characters commit acts of cruelty, violence, or selfishness, you also render them in sympathy and humanity. Can you talk about how you prevented any character in Ohio from feeling like a clear-cut villain? Did you feel it was important for you to do so? Do you feel like there’s any hope left for them?

    One of the clearest lines in the book is that notions of “villains” or “evil” are basically childhood fairytales adults tell themselves. I’ve heard people refer to a certain character in the book as a “monster” and though I’m way too polite to correct them, I think the novel speaks for itself about the danger of these simplistic categorizations. Behind what we think of as evil acts there are wounds, there is damage, there is grief, insecurity, fear, and loss. This is not a relativistic philosophy either. One can acknowledge and combat the horrible philosophies and dogmas and individual behaviors of our fellow human beings without doing ourselves the enormous disservice of simply grafting “evil” onto people we don’t like or don’t understand. But in imagining villains and heroes, I always keep in my head that villains love and are loved deeply by others while heroes frequently do terrible, unspeakable things for which they can never forgive themselves.

    Did you always envision Ohio to be organized in overlapping sections (plus a prelude and coda), each focusing on one character? What challenges or rewards did you experience structuring the story this way?

    The four characters in four sections was always the base of the novel, and the coda and prelude sort of grew out of suggestions from my agent and editor. Sula by Toni Morrison (not a bad Ohio author herself) also played an enormous role. The introduction to that novel just comes at you like a Scud missile, and Morrison talks about how the introduction was the very last part of the book she wrote. I’d had this moment that kept coming up over and over, of the parade following the return of a dead soldier. As soon as I started writing it, I knew that was the way in. Beyond that, I just loved the idea of being lost in each character’s world, of viewing all of their lives backward and forward and getting these miniature climaxes on the way to an accelerating ending. The organization, I hope, gives the book a kind of propulsion, it hurtles the reader forward as he or she tries to decipher how it will all come together. So far, I’ve not heard anyone say, “Markley, c’mon, I saw that coming.” You just want those last forty pages to shock the shit out of you and yet feel totally inevitable in retrospect. To leave you scrambling to unearth all the hidden depths of New Canaan.

    Were there any particular books, music, films, or anything else that inspired or informed Ohio?

    I’m very bad at this question, panic, and answer it differently every time. Like I think saying Bruce Springsteen and Toni Morrison is not innacurate, but neither is Quentin Tarantino and Dead Prez or Edward Hopper and the poet Lisa Wells. It’s not that one seeks to be influenced but that pieces of art and reportage and the irreducibly bizarre experience of being alive act upon your central vision at all times in ways you can never predict or understand.

    Can you talk about what you’re working on now? Do you think you’ll ever return to the characters of Ohio or the town of New Canaan?

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’m in this place right now, with a book that, no matter what happens with sales or reviews and all that other glitter, is something I’m deeply proud of, that has this team of incredible people behind it and who believe in it. I don’t want to take any of that for granted.

    If you had to name a single emotion or feeling that you feel drives Ohio, what would it be? What overarching feeling do you want to leave readers with after they finish the book? What do you want them to take away?

    The interaction between the writer and the reader is the mystical, ethereal, inexplicable place, right? Like I know what I think is in my book and what it should be evoking and how it should be read, but as with every piece of literature, the reader will bring his or her own hopes, biases, determinations, and dogmas to it. Like I can say that it’s a novel about love and loss and war and recession and addiction and ecology and religion and trauma and hope in the dark, but I’m not sure that means much except to taint that inexplicable encounter. Hell, I’m not even sure authors should answer questions about their novels! It breaks the Spell, even if just by a sliver of a degree. Mostly, I want people to close the book and say what all authors want to hear, which is, “Damn. I would throw my grandmother out a window to get an advance copy of whatever this guy writes next.”

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    Ohio 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
    Anonymous 23 days ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Stephen Markley's Ohio is a dark read full of lost souls returning to a small midwestern town that's been passed by. His characters are so well written that I could smell some of them right through the page. Opioids, dealing, using, overdoes, abuse and the grime of a druggie's life are all there in this powerful character-driven novel. Not for everyone, but the writing is first-rate and it does pull you in.
    KarenfromDothan More than 1 year ago
    This literary fiction novel is set in New Canaan, Ohio, a small, dying rust belt town. It’s the haunting story of the town and its inhabitants. So much promise, so much disappointment, so many broken lives. The prose is cerebral, complex, and poignant. The four main characters each have their own section of the book, but their stories all overlap. I could have done with fewer secondary characters. There were just too many for me to keep straight in my mind, and I would find myself having to flip back in the book to figure out who was who. Other than that I liked the story and have to say it is really well written.
    Debi_2014andBeyond More than 1 year ago
    Having a blogger relationship with NetGalley, I often have the opportunity to read new books and learn about new authors that I would otherwise miss out on.  Today's post is a book I asked to read and review for one simple reason: I'm from Ohio.  Period.   The book first starts out with the prelude, where readers are dropped right into the memorial parade for Rick, who was killed Iraq. Readers see this patriotic side of the town, while they also see the darker side of town - the meth and opiate crisis. Then the book jumps forward six years to a summer evening in 2013.  Four former school classmates, two men and two women, who are about to be reunited again in their hometown of New Canaan, a small rust belt town in Ohio. Each of the four has their own memories and secrets and are returning to New Canaan for their own reasons. The book is narrated from each of their viewpoints and their stories are told in separate chapters, but constantly intertwining. Ohio is not a book about living in the past, nor is it about trying to change the past, but as the author so eloquently puts it, it’s about the storm called progress.  This is a powerful, character-driven book and it's really hard to believe this is Stephen Markley's first novel. It's that well written. While it's a bit bleak and dark, it's also emotional and the characters are identifiable to all sorts of readers. I even appreciated the secondary characters in this book as they added to the story. I was provided with a complimentary digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review and unbiased opinion.
    MrsKelp More than 1 year ago
    Ann-S More than 1 year ago
    I want to start by saying that Ohio is a masterpiece in storytelling; however, it not for everyone. I finished this one about a week ago. The best way I can describe its affect is by saying that I feel a little haunted by reading it. Stephen Markley is a beautiful writer who is able to be both unsentimental and passionately intense about the topics of war, military honor, false patriotism, sexual assault, drug and alcohol abuse, terrorism, the recession, and depression. There are times it is shocking and violent and, yes, it is sad; but, it is so damn good. One of the best books that I’ve read in 2018. Markley uses the changing perspectives of a handful of characters through the course of a few days in the early 2000s and rewinding back to their high school days in small town Ohio. Sometimes changing perspectives and time shifting in novels can be confusing and pointless. This is not the case for Ohio. His characters’ changing perspectives help to fill in the gaps or questions that linger in the previous characters story. I loved that about this novel. Although this is not a joyful read, the author’s writing made it somewhat like a fun puzzle.Some readers found that some characters stories felt dislocated and random. Were we reading the same book? In my opinion, everything was very purposeful without feeling contrived. The attention to setting had me highlighting phrases on my kindle. There were so many captivating lines describing both the physical small-town Ohio and the psyche of those that lived there. They could have been taken from a Steinbeck novel if he preferred Ohio to the Salinas Valley. All told, Markley’s gorgeous writing is what will probably bring me back to read this work of literature again even though it made me feel a bit destroyed inside.
    joseph_spucklerJS More than 1 year ago
    Ohio by Stephen Markley is the story of a Rust Belt town and the people who live in it. Markley is the author of the memoir Publish This Book: The Unbelievable True Story of How I Wrote, Sold, and Published This Very Book and the travelogue Tales of Iceland. Growing up and living in Cleveland, I remember the tail end of the 1960s, 1970s, and the early 1980s, before leaving for the Marines.  I can recall the culture and impending doom that Ohio brings out. The industry-based economy had been stumbling for quite some time with several false starts towards recovery. My parents moved to the suburbs in the 1980s which seemed nice, basically major crime free, nice schools, park, and library. Today the opiates have replaced marijuana. Unemployment leaves a chronic shadow on the community. I was drawn to the book not only by name and location, Northeast Ohio but also by the cover. I try not to be drawn in by the book covers but this one took me back. Although the convenient store on the cover displays the colors of the 7/11 chain, I was reminded of the Lawson's store at the corner of my street. There were quite a lot of memories tied to the store from drinking Coke on the loading dock, buying lunch food at the deli, and playing pinball inside the store. The writing in this novel is superb. There is a great effort in the setting and the characters that creates depth to the story moving it from just a novel into literature:  A vortex of blue light spilled across the pavement, the streets, the downtown buildings, swirling violet violence and a piercing hiss as the oxygen was sucked into another dimension.  It flew backwards into the hot cerulean spiral, gazing mad black eyes, and when it passed over the edge of existence, the puncture in the universe wheezed painfully and then zipped up like a wound stitching itself shut.  Like the cover shot in the night, most of the book seems to take place in a darkness. The image of an eternal night is filled with things that are not seen by all or even most people. Night hides a variety of ills which the book slowly reveals.  The city itself is New Canaan which plays on Biblical Canaan. The Biblical Canaan was the promised land of the Israelites -- the land of milk and honey. New Canaan, however, is the land of broken dreams and anguish.  Glory Days have turned to drugs, drinking, and self-mutilation.  Industry has left, the real estate market never recovered, homes are foreclosed, a few bars and a local restaurant is all that seems to remain.  The economic disaster that has come to define the region is brought out through the characters lives, four of which have come back to the city for various reasons.  Bill Ashcraft an activist and outspoken anti-war crusader, whose life has become a blur of alcohol and drugs, comes back as a courier for former classmate Kaylyn.  Stacey Moore a Ph.D. candidate in English returns to meet with the mother of her high school lover.  Dan Eaton a veteran of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and balances his need to escape New Canaan and the girl he left behind.  Tina Ross the daughter of a minister struggles with popularity and her beliefs.   Also having a major role in the story, but only through flashbacks, are the football hero and Marine Corporal Rick Brinkland whose funeral opens the book.  Lisa Han, half Vietnamese, raised by a single caucasian mother plays a central role connecting the other characters together.  She remains a bit of the mystery as no one has se
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I am very glad that I read this book and especially glad that I received it through NetGalley, because I might not have finished it otherwise. Frankly, I didn't like the first section, partly because I didn't care for the character featured in the section and the plot was very slow to develop. In another circumstance I might have put it down, but I am so glad I read the whole book. Subsequent sections feature different characters, all of whom bump into each other in an event fulled night. The narrations skips quickly and seamlessly between the happenings of that night and the events of their lives, particularly in high school, that brought them there. And then later on, the reader becomes aware of a couple of very dark subplots and mysteries that are revealed in a slow and almost tantalizing manner. My eyes are bleary today from staying up last night reading the last third of the book, I literally couldn't put it down. I would never have predicted that after the start of the book, and while that's part of the thrill of this book, it's also the only negative. If the beginning had been more concise and a little more fast paced, this would be a five-star review. Read this book.
    eclecticbookwrm More than 1 year ago
    I suspect it will be a while before this book leaves my head. I cannot stop thinking about it. I am not even sure I can properly do it any kind of justice in a few brief words, but here goes: as an Ohioan millennial, the first two-thirds of this book was heartbreakingly relatable to me. The classmates in the Iraq war, the inescapable podunk town. It angered me. It made me depressed. I laughed out loud. It was refreshing, in a way, because I don't know of many books that cover the aftermath of September 11 for my generation like this. That being said, all of the characters are of course caricatures, in a way. Markley dwells in the gray area and does so successfully. There is no good guy to cheer for in this book. In most ways, they are all on the losing side fighting against the inevitable. This book is not my usual kind of book. It was heartbreaking, and I couldn't put it down. I was less than 100 pages into it a week ago and devoured 400 pages over two days to finish it. It is not for the faint of heart. But if you like suspense, mysteries, or literary fiction, I highly recommend it.
    RobertKW More than 1 year ago
    Having finished "Ohio" by Stephen Markley, I am amazed that this is a debut novel. I was mesmerized not only by the story, but quite often by the writing itself. There are sections of the book (in particular, a description of a photograph of several high school students at their prom) that I had to highlight on my Kindle; they were that good. War, friendship, love, betrayal, desperation, and the results of 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan are depicted in a way that kept me turning the pages while savoring each one. Don't expect a plot synopsis; not my style. You can read about the plot on any sight that carries this review. The novel explores one night in 2013 when four former high school friends (individually, not together) return to the town of New Canaan, Ohio, and the encounters each has. Each of the books four major sections follows one of these characters, and alternates between that night and flashbacks to other events in their life. Events only hinted at in one section are documented in later sections. In this way, the novel's impact unfolds gradually, allowing the reader to savor and wonder how these four stories really intersect, both in the present and the past. One example is "The Murder That Never Was," an event that all of the major characters mention, and which the reader wonders about until the book's very end. The conclusion arrives with the impact of a bullet. It was shocking, and entirely real. I cannot imagine a more satisfying conclusion after following the events of this night, and the many others that led up to it. In short: if you enjoy a good mystery, character-driven, with intriguing writing, and a realistic depiction of small town struggles, grab this book. Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the free advance copy.
    Kimberley Burkovich More than 1 year ago
    High school history can stick with you for the rest of your life. In a small town in Ohio, people who grow up together are defined by those years, no matter how long it’s been or how much they’ve changed along the way. In the prelude we get to know about the image the town presents during Rick’s memorial parade. A parade that is steeped in patriotism. New Canaan is a staunch bastion of patriots - the right side of politics. Lurking in the shadows, though, is a meth and opiate crisis. The stuff that people like to hide in the shadows. Markley gives us this prelude as insight into what we are about to experience with Bill, Kaylyn, Rick, Stacey, Dan & Tina, and the assorted others involved in their lives. We start with the story of Bill Ashcraft. He’s an “activist” but also a drug addict/alcoholic. He was asked to transport something back to his hometown that he really didn’t want to go back to, save for one Kaylyn, the girl he’d always loved. Stacey Moore was Bill’s high school girlfriend, with secrets of her own involving Kaylyn. Tina Ross, the good girl, who was once involved with Bill, but later moved on, wasn’t such a good girl after all. Dan Eaton, the good guy through and through, who served in Iraq, has come back for just a one night dinner with his ex. And lastly, Rick Brinklan, big time football dude who lost his life in Iraq and is still thought of as a war hero in his hometown. This story takes place over just a couple of days in “the Cane”, but it travels through time retelling history from high school. Markley does an amazing job of immersing the reader into each character’s story, each nuanced little bit of what has followed them from high school into adulthood. The timing of the middle east wars and the recession in the US sets a backdrop for New Canaan, a once middle-class bastion, now just a rundown suburb with a Walmart for its hub. The drug epidemic that America is facing takes center stage in this town that was once a thriving factory community. The tale of New Canaan is not unlike what is happening all over America today. Not an easy read, this book is powerful in its storytelling. Stephen Markley is a master of words and character development. The threads of each person’s story is sewn together in a climax that will leave the reader stunned. As a debut novel, this is a powerfully written story that will stick with you.
    UpAllNightBB More than 1 year ago
    3.5 Stars Review by Heather Late Night Reviewer Up All Night w/ Books Blog Ohio is the debut novel by author Stephen Markley. The writing in this novel is rich and detailed. The descriptions are so involved that a very clear picture is formed, but it always feels dark. Like the town is Eeyore under a cloud or it is always night time. New Canaan is a fictional town in Northeastern Ohio that could be any number of small Ohio towns that has seen better days. The book revolves around 4 main characters (Tina, Bill, Dan and Stacey). Tina Ross, the quintessential “preacher’s daughter”; Bill Ashcraft a drug addict and alcoholic activist and anti-war crusader; Dan Eaton is a war veteran; and Stacey Moore a PhD candidate. The book opens with the funeral of Marine Corporal Rick Brinkland, former high school football star, who plays a major role in the book through flashbacks. Everyone is connected not just by the town, but by Lisa Han, whom no one has seen since high school. There are many issues raised in the book that aren’t unique to small town America, but are relatable in their commonness: drugs, sex, war, and murder. The story is compelling albeit depressing. This book isn’t about happy endings or feel good coming of age. This book takes the lives of 20 somethings who reach back into the past to remember their hopes and dreams only to be reminded of what didn’t come to be. I can only recommend Ohio to those that appreciate well told stories and captivating descriptions. Mr. Markley isn’t trying to make the reader feel better and he doesn’t.
    jdowell More than 1 year ago
    Wow! This book touched on all the crises of our times - the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism and violence against America, the opiod crisis, the recession that devastated the country, and more. At once it is a mystery but also a slice of life for today. I found it totally engrossing and it had an ending I didn't see coming. The writing is very descriptive and puts you in the scene so that you can see the character interaction. The description of the characters in high school were spot-on. I'm hearing that Stephen Markley is a major talent - and I agree. Especially since this is a debut novel. Thanks to Stephen Markley and Simon & Schuster through Netgalley for an advance copy.
    bamcooks More than 1 year ago
    The setting for this gritty novel is New Canaan, Ohio, a small town in northeast Ohio, hard hit by the economic downturn, whose major industries are long gone and the biggest employer is Walmart. The heroes of the town have been the high school football players who could pretty much get away with anything...and often do. But these kids seem to be cursed: one commits suicide; one OD's and accidentally sets fire to his apartment building, killing a couple of newlyweds; one dies serving his country in the Middle East; and one leaves town abruptly, never to be seen again. On one fateful night some ten years after graduating, four classmates return to 'The Cane' and these are their stories, told in separate chapters, but constantly intertwining. Stephen Markley reveals much of what has gone wrong with our society in these pages: the opiod/drug problem, crushing economic pressures, divisive political upheaval, unpopular wars, violence, the glorifying of youth, and more deeply, the crisis of faith. Some of this is very hard to read: some aspects will horrify you and some will even bring you to tears. But undoubtedly, this writer is a major new talent. I received an arc of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley for my honest review. This is a book I won't soon forget.
    Jnnlbrd More than 1 year ago
    Everything in life depends on the decisions that you make, some more important than others. Sometimes the most innocuous decision has the greatest ramifications and effect on our lives. Ohio by Stephen Markley is a fictional account of a town that prosperity has forgotten. New Canaan, Ohio is a town where the effects of war, drugs, suicide, unemployment and a host of other epidemic problems have left it without hope. New Canaan represents what has befallen Ohio and so many Midwestern rust belt towns. Tragedy one is followed by tragedy two which is followed by tragedy three and so on. Prosperity did not stop in, it just passed by. Compounding the external woes are the woes inflicted by friends, family, classmates and neighbors. Markley's book focuses on the stories of four high school friends ten years after graduation. This dark and sad tale of four separate lives is the story of how life is really a game of inches. The feeling that I got from all four stories is that while each story is unique and different, in life we face the consequences from one bad decision, one "what if", one regret, one time we didn't listen to our conscience, the one time "Ishould have said something", the one time I didn't speak up or the one time I went down the other road. Ohio is a long, dark, depressing, sad book that doesn't leave you feeling better at the end. But this isn't a book that was meant to. Reflect, contemplate and discuss would be the goals of this book. I felt a profound sense of sadness and hopelessness after reading this book. Do not try and read this book in one sitting, you will not appreciate it for what it is. In order to gain the most out of this Markley's gritty, brutal but brilliant prose, the reader needs to digest this book in stages. Perhaps this book serves to remind us that failed dreams do linger. I received an advance copy of this book from Netgalley. #Netgalley #Ohio
    Magerber More than 1 year ago
    I received an advanced reading copy from NetGalley and Simon & Schuster. Thanks! I am not completely sure what I want to say about this novel. On one hand, I really enjoyed reading it. In some ways, it reminded me of The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The book is told from the point of view of four different people who attended high school together in a small town in Ohio. The story begins when one of the men returns to the town, and encounters each of the others. These encounters lead to flashbacks of high school and early adulthood for each character, providing the reader with differing viewpoints of the same external events during that time period. The novel does a great job of digging deep into each of the four characters-they all felt fully fleshed out and believable. While reading the flashback from one character's viewpoint, the reader wonders (along with the protagonist in that section) about the motivations behind another person's behavior. Then, as we read about the same events from a different point of view, we gain a different understanding of the same situation, which sometimes answer the questions in the mind of the first character, but always bring up additional questions and a new interpretation of the events in the reader's mind. I thought Markley accomplished this quite well. I started reading this novel on a Friday, read about 2/3 of it over the weekend, and then finished it the next weekend. And I think the challenge that I had with this novel has something to do with that reading schedule. I had a pretty quiet weekend, and was able to spend quite a bit of time reading. During that period, I was really enjoying the novel-I loved the different character's voices and felt myself drawn into the sense of intrigue that revolves in and around groups of friends during high school. The complex interrelationship between different characters, and who knew what about who felt so believable-I remember feeling exactly that way when I was in high school. Unfortunately, when I got back to the novel after work on Monday, I had lost the thread, and suddenly the web of relationships had become too complex. I remembered peoples' names, but I was not always sure where they fit into the web in regards to the character whose story I was currently following, let alone how they fit for earlier characters. It felt a bit as if I had reconnected with someone I knew in high school on Facebook, who then they told me some salacious gossip about a mutual friend from our past. Although I remember our mutual friend, and can picture the situation, I don't experience that feeling of "of course" or "now I understand everything" that I might have felt during high school. It is just too long ago for me to fully remember and understand the complex web of relationships that provide a context for me to process that piece of gossip. This is not the first time this has happened to me; for example, I don't often read novels that don't have a fairly straightforward plot structure, because I lose the thread of the story easily. I honestly don't think there was anything specific to Markley's writing that led me to feel this way. But unfortunately, it left me enjoying this novel less than I might have if I had been able to finish it before the weekend ended. That said, I would definitely suggest that others not be deterred from reading this novel because I did not give it a higher rating; I also gave The Secret History only 3 stars and 76% o
    SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
    Ohio by Stephen Markley is a recommended dark, rural Gothic character study of Millennials and social critique of small towns in the rust belt. One summer night in 2013 four former classmates return to their small town, New Canaan, in the northeastern Ohio rust belt, and face the ghosts from their past. Bill Ashcraft is an alcoholic, drug-abusing activist who is delivering a mysterious but clearly illegal package to a former classmate. Stacey Moore is a doctoral candidate who has returned to confront the mother of her high school girlfriend. Dan Eaton is a veteran of three tours in Iraq who has returned to New Canaan for a dinner date with his high school sweetheart. Tina Ross has a score to settle with the captain of the football team who sexually abused her in high school. Ohio is divided into four parts, each told from one of the four different character's perspective in 2013 with events recalled from earlier, during and after high school. New Canaan is an archetypal small rust belt town in decline, with foreclosures, a dying economy, and a meth problem. These character have all grown up post 9/11, feeling marginalized, with war, racial tensions, political polarization, and environmental warnings ever prevalent. Most of the characters are not likeable and are lost in the past, unable to grow up and move on with their lives. Make no mistake; Ohio is a dark, pessimistic, violent, melancholy novel. While the development of his characters is adroit and sophisticated, they also seem to fall into caricatures of typical small town roles. The four parts from the character's point-of-view worked best for me when taken and considered as novellas that are linked and culminate with a portrait of a town and the events that shaped the lives of these people. I'm not convinced that Ohio is the definitive novel for an entire state, but it does capture a small town in the area and a disenfranchised group of people. Did I say this was a dark, foreboding novel? The overwhelming tone and the voice of the characters were almost too bleak and hopeless for me. On the other hand, the quality of the writing, despite the tone of the novel, can be opulent, descriptive, and insightful. It also needed a bit more editing, tightening up, because the wordiness and circumlocution does get out of hand in some places - as does the swearing. Bill is an especially tiring character after a while, which is problematic because his (long) part is first in the book. It took sheer will power to finish his section and continue. Did I mention it is a dark, depressing novel? Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
    Bookwormmommyof3 More than 1 year ago
    Let me start off by saying, I cannot believe this is a debut fiction novel. I was surprised by this fact due to the level of execution and intricacy written by Markley. I was a sophmore in high school when 9/11 occurred. I remember being in 2nd period health class when the voice of my principal came over the intercom to announce what has occurred. Feelings of disbelief and fear came over me and then a hunger for information. Thinking of that day and its aftermath brings me the chills and tears to my eyes. It’s almost like a person in mourning, the nation lost its innocence that day aside from the lives lost and future that ensued in what is called the post-9/11 world. Ohio brings the post-9/11 world to life and touches topics that are still effecting us today. Friends in a small town in Ohio that confront the impact of 9/11, There is the death of a hometown sports hero, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that ensues both physical & mental pain to the living & dead, the opiate crisis, and recession. This town in Ohio can be any town in the current United States, that is how powerful this book genuinely is. It raises questions, rattles the past and questions the present. We are currently in an intense political and social environment and this novel definitely opened my eyes. After reading this book, actually about 140 pages in, I asked myself who is Stephen Markley? I wanted to know his story because I’ve never read something so real, so dark, and to the point where I felt back to my 15 year old self and how 9/11 impacted me. This book made me reflect on that day, the weeks of sleepless nights I spent watching CNN, and burying myself is books wanting answers. I wanted to know why? I believe that day genuinely impacted me and question my place in the world. I wanted to act because I felt helpless. Unfortunately due to mental health issues and other aspects of my life didn’t allow this to happen. I shoved all the feelings, plans, and urge that I had to get involved in the back of my mind. This book stirred those emotions in a good way and brought some sort of inner peace. I appreciated the honesty, integrity, realness, and the feelings that poured onto those pages. This man is 34 years old and writes like such a seasoned soul that I couldn’t imagine in my wildest of dreams.