"From the Pulitzer Prize-winning Richard Russo--in his first stand-alone novel in a decade--comes a new revelation: a gripping story about the abiding yet complex power of friendship. One beautiful September day, three sixty-six-year old men convene on Martha's Vineyard, friends ever since meeting in college circa the sixties. They couldn't have been more different then, or even today--Lincoln's a commercial real estate broker, Teddy a tiny-press publisher, and Mickey a musician beyond his rockin' age. But each man holds his own secrets, in addition to the monumental mystery that none of them has ever stopped puzzling over since a Memorial Day weekend right here on the Vineyard in 1971. Now, forty-four years later, as this new weekend unfolds, three lives and that of a significant other are displayed in their entirety while the distant past confounds the present like a relentless squall of surprise and discovery. Shot through with Russo's trademark comedy and humanity, Chances Are. also introduces a new level of suspense and menace that will quicken the reader's heartbeat throughout this absorbing saga of how friendship's bonds are every bit as constricting and rewarding as those of family or any other community. For both longtime fans and lucky newcomers, Chances Are. is a stunning demonstration of a highly acclaimed author deepening and expanding his remarkable achievement"--
On 1st December 1969, midway through their college years, they spent the evening glued to a small black and white television in the sorority house, anxiously watching the first draft lottery. That was the evening the fates of approximately 850,000 young men would be decided, dependent on when their date of birth, contained in one of 366 capsules, would be drawn. Everyone wanted as high a number as possible because that would mean a low risk of being called up to serve in Vietnam but a low number meant an early call-up … or making the decision to avoiding that fate by fleeing to Canada. Although two of the young men are lucky enough to get a high enough number to make call-up unlikely, the third gets a very low one so he and his friends know that, as soon as he graduates, he is certain to be called up.
When they finally graduate in 1971 the three friends and Jacy, who is shortly due to get married, decide to spend the Memorial Day long-weekend together on Martha’s Vineyard, at the holiday house owned by Lincoln’s mother. They all enjoy this farewell weekend despite the tension generated by the knowledge that one of the three men will shortly be called up and that Jacy’s wedding was imminent. However, following that weekend Jacy was never seen again and nor was the mystery of her disappearance ever solved. Had one of the three killed her because he was about to lose her to another man? Had a disagreeable neighbour, whose advances she’d rejected, killed her? Or had she hitch-hiked when she left the island and been picked up by a murderer?
Fast-forward to 2015: all three men are sixty-six years old and had last got together ten years earlier. Their disparate personalities are reflected in the many ways in which their lives have taken very different paths:
one of them is a happily married family man who owns a commercial real estate business; another is a bachelor, a complex, introverted man who is a small-firm publisher and struggles with his mental health, and the third is rock musician who rides a motorbike and whose temper has a short fuse. As Lincoln is considering selling the holiday house he inherited when his mother died, the friends agree to meet there for a reunion. It very quickly becomes clear that in the intervening years each of them has remained obsessed with Jacy, and has puzzled over her disappearance. When they reflect on that long-lost weekend they realise that they need to solve the mystery of what happened to the girl none of them has ever stopped loving ... but what secrets and suspicions does each man hold, and will whatever they gradually share make them question how well they truly know one another?
As the timeline moves between past and present and with alternating chapters using the narrative voices of Lincoln and Teddy, a picture gradually emerges of all their backgrounds, the various experiences which have influenced the ways in which they’ve lived their lives, shaped their decision-making, forged their enduring friendship and made them the men they are today. Although Mickey’s narrative voice isn’t heard until two thirds of the way through the book, his story is told through the reminiscences of Lincoln and Teddy, meaning that he is always as “present” in the developing story as they are. Each of the characters feels that the direction his life took after graduating was, in any ways, predicated by the result of the draft lottery and I found their various reflections on this to be very thought-provoking, partly because philosophising on life-choices, on pivotal moments and “roads not taken” during our lives is a tempting self-indulgence for most of us.
Almost immediately I felt completely caught up in the lives of these characters as they struggled to be open with one another, as they faced up to their regrets and remorse, their guilt and their shame, their reflections on how contented, or otherwise, they are with the decisions they have made and the people they have become, as well as with their hopes and expectations for the future. The mystery of what happened to Jacy was a central theme and I felt that the author managed the tension and suspense generated by this in a tightly-controlled way and although I found that the final resolution did require a degree of incredulity, this didn’t detract from my overall satisfaction with the outcome! In addition to creating such credible characters, the author conveyed an impressive sense of time and place, particularly with his evocations of the early 1970s, the influence of the Vietnam war, the music, the drug-culture and the massive social and political changes which were taking place at that time.
This is an elegantly-written, powerful and memorable story, embracing many thought-provoking themes, particularly ones about masculinity, the nature of male friendships, the power of unrequited love, the complexities of family relationships, especially those between fathers and sons, an insidious working-class insecurity which harbours self-doubt, the reverberating effects of the choices people make at various times in their lives, reflections on fate versus freewill and the challenges of aging.
This is the first novel I’ve read by this author but, if Richard Russo’s acute observations of people and their milieu, the essential humanity he brings to his characters, his wry sense of humour and his ironic reflections on life are trademarks of his writing style, I’m sure that I’ll now enjoy working my way through his backlist!
One final reflection … when Mickey invites Lincoln to stay with him after the weekend he offers him the use of his pull-out sofa saying, “the dog won’t like it, but his affection and forgiveness can usually be bought with chocolate.” Would the author please tell Mickey to find another treat for his dog because chocolate can be dangerous, possibly even lethal, for dogs!
Three older men (in their 60’s) converge in Chilmark, a small village on Martha’s Vineyard, for a reminiscence of sorts. The house has been in Lincoln’s family for decades. And though Lincoln and his family rarely visit, the house holds memories that Lincoln (and his friends) can’t seem to shake.
Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey, from different parts of the country and from very different backgrounds, meet at Minerva, a private liberal arts college in New England, in the 1960’s. They are scholarship students and meet as ‘hashers’ or kitchen workers in a swanky sorority house on campus. Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey become life-long friends and soulmates, along with Jacy Calloway, a member of the sorority and a young woman they are all helplessly in love with.
After their 1971 graduation, they all meet at the Chilmark House for a goodbye weekend. That weekend will haunt them for the rest of their adult lives, as they try to untangle the mystery of Jacy’s disappearance from their lives, and the emotional backlash that it brings.
Being of a ‘certain age’, this book speaks to me in a profound way. There are so many events, so many occurrences, so many entanglements that demand a sense of closure in my head. I understand instantly and completely the three friends’ emotional states. Secrets that need to be told; behaviors that need to be explained; friendships that need to be redefined.
CHANCES ARE is humorous at times, very thoughtful, emotional, surprising; a treatise on coming of age and coming to a comfortable place in ‘older age’; the complexities of deep friendship.
I would heartily recommend this book. Thank you Mr. Russo.
Really took to heart the last several pages.
It’s September, and most of the tourists and summer residents have finally packed up and left Martha’s Vineyard for another year. But three sixty-six-year-old men, friends since they first met as college freshmen, have decided to spend a weekend on the island catching up and reminiscing about the experiences they shared in the crazy 1960s. The men are still close friends but have not been together for ten years, so there is a lot to talk about. The real question is how willing they are to share some of the secrets they’ve been hiding from each other.
Lincoln is now a commercial real estate broker in Las Vegas where he lives with his wife, the mother of his six children. As he tells it, he is financially comfortable now, but he was a much richer man in 2008 before the crash. Consequently, Lincoln is under some pressure to sell the Martha’s Vineyard property he inherited from his mother. Teddy is an academic who runs a tiny press for a university in Syracuse and has discovered that he is very good at fixing things – especially broken books. Mickey, who lives in nearby Cape Cod, is a musician who fronts a regionally-popular band and enjoys much the same lifestyle that he has lived since he was in his twenties. Of the three men, he is the one who seems to have changed the least since they went to school together in Connecticut.
However, there is someone missing from this reunion, and all three men feel her absence deep down inside themselves. Jacy was the sorority girl they were all in love with, each of them secretly hoping that he would be the one Jacy chose to spend the rest of her life with – despite how guilty they still feel about having been so willing to betray the trust and friendship of the other two Musketeers if that’s what it took to win Jacy’s love. But then, in 1971 during their last weekend together, Jacy disappeared from the island, never to be heard from again, and that kind of betrayal became unnecessary.
What, though, happened to Jacy? Her disappearance was never solved, and when Lincoln starts asking questions about that weekend, disturbing answers begin to surface.
Chances Are, despite the unsolved mystery it centers itself around, is not really a mystery novel. Rather, it is a literary novel that depends on its exceptionally well-developed characters to keep its readers turning pages. Russo proves himself to be such a master of misdirection here that his readers are certain to be fascinated as the author subtly reveals one clue after the other about who Lincoln, Teddy, Mickey, and Jacy are and how they became those people. And, too, this one has one of the most satisfying and well-written endings that I’ve read so far this year. Chances Are is one I’ll be recommending to my friends for years to come.
Quotes: "The thing to understand about your father is that you always have a choice. You can do things his way, or you can wish you had."
"What's interesting is that people aren't more curious about each other. We let people keep their secrets but then convince ourselves we know them anyway."
"What made the contrast between fate and free will so lopsided was that human beings invariably mistook one for the other, hurling themselves furiously against that which is fixed and immutable while ignoring the very things over which they had some control."
I kept trying to put my finger on what I didn’t like about this book. I think in the end it was the fact that Jacy was such an empty character. She is the woman that all three men are in love with, but we only learned things about her in terms of how the men around her affect her. It reminded me of the Virgin Suicides in that way. We only see her through the eyes of everyone who loves her, and that’s not as interesting. Even when we learn more about her history, it’s still focused on the men in her life, not who she truly is.
Russo is an excellent writer, one I’ve always loved, and the book is full of beautiful descriptions, but the characters felt empty to me. The most important fact of their lives was that they had once loved a woman in college who had disappeared. It felt like a weak ode to The Sun Also Rises and I wasn’t a big fan.
Richard Russo has one again thrown in a thought that left me reeling – “What can’t be true, isn’t, …. , no matter how much you want it to be.”
As the novel turns a bit into a detective story, family secrets and rekindled animosities take over the narrative and maybe stray away from what Russo does best, but in all this is a pleasant read. The novel has a Big Chill feel to it.
The solid earth beneath his feet had turned to sand, and his parents, the two most familiar people in his life, into strangers. In time he would regain his footing, but he would never again entirely trust it.
By sixteen, sneaking into raunchy New Haven bars and sitting in with older guys whose girlfriends didn’t wear bras and seemed to enjoy revealing this fact by bending over in front of Mickey, who would later joke with Lincoln and Teddy that he had a hard-on for all of 1965.
Maybe this was the unstated purpose of education, to get young people to see the world through the tired eyes of age: disappointment and exhaustion and defeat masquerading as wisdom.
What made the contest between fate and free will so lopsided was that human beings invariably mistook one for the other, hurling themselves furiously against that which is fixed and immutable while ignoring the very things over which they actually had some control.
The suspense may carry you through the first half of the novel, but what works better is Russo’s depiction of his central characters, with their father issues and insecurities about class and money, their ingrained cluelessness about women and their need to present a certain image to the world, even if they’re pretty sure the world couldn’t care less.
Chances Are…” is, at heart, less a mystery than an evocation of what happens when you subscribe to “the peculiarly male conviction that silence conveyed one’s feelings better than anything else.” When Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey are finally forced to speak about those feelings, they discover that “the membrane separating sympathy from pity could be paper thin.” Is it possible the weekend will be, as Teddy wonders, “a misguided attempt to preserve something already lost”?
Three men in their 60's reunite for a weekend on Martha's Vineyard. They met in college and became close friends, but over the years, they have each gone their own way and couldn't be leading more different lives. Lincoln is a real estate broker, Teddy is a university professor and small press publisher, and Mickey is a musician who continues to rock on in his sixties. But what binds them together is not only their college experience during the Vietnam era, but also a passion they all held for the same woman. As they reunite after decades apart, some deep secrets are revealed that could tear apart their fragile bonds.
This book was such a pleasure to read. Maybe it was because I could completely relate to the whole process of reflecting back on who we were during our college years and look at where life has taken us. The plot had a few twists and there were times when it almost felt like this was a mystery. Overall a quiet and reflective story told with humor and sadness.
Now, 44 years later, they reunite for a weekend at Lincoln's family summer home on Nantucket Island where just after college graduation, they had a similar weekend, accompanied by Jacy, and from which she disappeared never to be heard of again. Lincoln is now a commercial property developer out west trying to hold his business together after the financial panic of 2008, and thinking that, perhaps, the best way to give himself a financial cushion is to sell his family's old house now worth millions even if it would probably be sold as a tear-down.
Teddy is coming to the end of his career as a somewhat middling publisher of academic books on religion. He suffers from chronic anxiety punctuated by paralyzing panic attacks, one of which he is trying to fend off this weekend.
Micky, seemingly the least complicated of the three is an aging rock & roll musician still riding his motorcycle and playing gigs in bars all over New England.
All three come to the island reflecting on the weekend, four decades in the past, where the girl of their dreams disappeared. As they start to piece together the pieces of what seems to be an unsolvable puzzle, they will learn more about themselves and each other than they had bargained for, and also learn that memory is slippery and ultimately not trustworthy.
This is Russo at his best. Highly recommended.
Forty plus years after their graduation, during a time fraught with the trauma of the Vietnam War, three Minerva College fraternity brothers who have remained friends, gather back in Martha’s Vineyard for a reunion. The current time is fraught with the Donald Trump election and the current financial and social issues confronting the country. One friend is not present for this reunion. Jacy Calloway, a Theta sorority girl who hung out with them. She disappeared 44 years ago and was loved by each of the three men. They always wondered which of them might win her heart, but she was engaged to another man, at the time, "Vance, Chance Lance?", who was studying to be a lawyer and who was portrayed as a nerdy character who preferred his class distinctions. He came from Greenwich, CT, also, and Jacy’s parents and his parents were close friends. The two were an item for years.
Now, on the island, each of the men reminisces about their relationship with her and about their memories and lives since graduation. They all had secrets which are slowly revealed as the novel progresses. Each had some kind of parental issue, and except for Jacy, who comes from tony Greenwich, CT., each was a scholarship student. The views of their parents shaped them, and they and their parents were obvious products of their times, representing all aspects on the spectrum of societal issues.
Lincoln, a commercial real estate broker is on the island to try and sell his house because of the recent recession. He and his wife helped their children through the crisis and are now in need of protecting themselves in case another financial crisis occurs. Mickey Girardi is still playing in his rock band and is quick to react in anger. He seems stuck in his teenage mindset. Teddy Novak has a small publishing company for religious and spiritual titles. He had once thought of going to divinity school. He has a host of medical issues. Jacy (Justine) Calloway has disappeared. No one seems to know what happened to her and the police investigation when she went missing was sketchy, 44 years ago. Lincoln unwittingly reopens the investigation because of his own curiosity when he meets a retired cop through the local librarian.
There are several stories within stories. Lincoln seems to be the most stable. He married Anita after college, and they have six children. Teddy is the most medically compromised; he is unmarried and was at one time thought to be gay. Mickey is a throwback to another time. He is tough and outgoing, and he has had several marriages. He is unmarried now. He was a draft dodger who ran away to Canada. Jacy has a history of family abuse and was confused about her real identity. She has an unknown biological father, and a sometimes cold-hearted adoptive mother. She is furious with her parents for keeping her heritage from her. Her father represents the evil of the financial industry, the industry that has just suffered a terrible crash and is the reason for Lincoln’s need to sell his family home.
While the narrator did a fine job, it was sometimes hard to figure out which character he was describing. The chapters alternated between Lincoln and Teddy with Jacy and Mickey being developed at the end.
Social issues were hinted at, with Trump supporters being portrayed negatively. Although some of the fraternity brothers were Republican, they were not on the extreme right. The right was portrayed as loud, opinionated, and lower end, with a tendency to quick anger and behavior that was not always appropriate.
The book also touches on present day racial issues with the relationship of Teddy and Theresa, a woman of color whom he rejects, but not for those reasons. Teddy does not like confrontation. His emotional health is fragile and he has spells.
Subtly, the author pretty much trashes the values of the right and lauds those of the left. The one wealthy Wall Streeter falls from grace, and it is implied that he goes to prison. He is also suspected of abusing his daughter. Jacy is inexplicably really furious with her mother for not revealing that she was adopted, and she spends the rest of her life harboring that grievance.
The book does describe the mindset of the country as the Vietnam war robbed it of its human capital. It explains how nationalism drove some men to support it on principle and others to dodge the draft. The men have moved on from the heyday of their youth and often describe themselves as if their end is near, although they are only in their mid sixties. Since it is retirement age, they are aware of their new found shortcomings brought on by advancing age. They are not as fit or as healthy, but otherwise, seem unchanged in their views. The book also explores loneliness, modesty and some behavioral issues facing women, especially during the time of these early college years before women achieved more independence.
The book examines the relationships of friends, their emotional entanglements, their choices and their secrets. It examines aging and maturing with evolving points of view. It examines varied parent/child interactions and their effects on each other. It also examines the place of luck and unexpected accidents in our lives.
There are several surprises in the book and it keeps you guessing, but it is often tedious and overwritten. I enjoyed it because it is was an original story not immersed in filthy language, the PC culture, sex or current day social issues at its forefront. The story seemed to be the purpose, not the author's political views which are so often the reason for many of the books written today in our current political atmosphere that is fraught with contention.
Each man comes to Martha's Vineyard with baggage. The most significant moment of their young lives was December 1, 1969: the night the Vietnam draft lottery was broadcast on national television. Mickey, with the lowest number, ultimately went to Canada to avoid military service; Teddy spent his life in academia but never found a clear sense of purpose; Lincoln was never at risk of going to Vietnam but is haunted by his father’s dogmatic presence and a sense of failure despite all outward appearances. The novel explores the turns their lives took after the lottery and the men they have become, while also slowly revealing Jacy’s story.
I most enjoyed the character studies in this novel, as well as Russo’s references to modern politics (the weekend reunion takes place in 2015). The mystery of Jacy’s disappearance was sometimes too dominant, and its resolution a little too pat but then this is supposed to be a novel about male friendships, not a “whodunnit.” It’s not a bad book, but it’s not Russo’s best either.