Ohio begins with a funeral and ends in murder. What happens in between is as depressing as a high school reunion, but man, Stephen Markley’s writing elevates the wrist-slashing fatigue into a Stanley Kubrick-like, art-house style circa Clockwork Orange. Still, Ohio is 500-page work that feels like it takes all four years of the riding the after-activities bus route to read through.

Ohio book reviewMarkley recounts the impromptu high school reunion of 2013 following the incredibly-pitiful-it’s-laughable funeral of fallen solider Rick Brinkland as told through the antics and mostly-troubled thoughts of four New Canaan alum, each getting a novella to tell their tales of woes: of trying to fit in, on being attracted to the wrong gal or guy, running away from responsibility, and the youthful persistence of taking the moral high road. After all, if Kevin Smith’s Clerks taught us anything, it’s that’s what high school is all about: algebra, bad lunch, and infidelity. Markley would add “with a ton of drugs” to that statement as apparently that’s all early 21st century kids in the Rust Belt seem to do. Ohio captures all of that and more. Sometimes, that’s too much.

Like its namesake river and the first ten years of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ existence, Ohio rambles on and becomes unwieldy. Markley’s accounts run so deep an Excel spreadsheet is needed to capture the dramatis personae, their nicknames, associates, sexual partners, and addiction of choice, because there is four years’ of catch up required for the reader while the story’s hook, that of the murder mystery, comes so late in the final act it’s nearly a post-credits zinger in a Marvel Studios film.

Aside from the back-and-forth storytelling told by a former basketball player, a beauty queen, a cheerleader, and a nerd, Markley builds a heavy universe, and one that is completely recognizable as anywhere in America and has the scars to prove it. Ohio may be depressing and fatalistic, but Markley’s craft brings a shine to this Shinola and casts a sense of importance to any of the fatalism plaguing fulfillment-seeking millennials. Unfortunately, this nine-course meal version of a history lesson suffers from distention well before any sort of a hopeful moral can be splashed back with Scotch.

Serious thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the ARC. I just need a restorative nap and a mini-marathon of Teen Titans Go! for the laughs and I’ll be good to go.

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