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496 pages; Simon & Schuster
Ohio (Simon & Schuster), Stephen Markley's debut, is a big book—not just in heft (it's nearly 500 pages), but in scope, ambition, and ideas. It's a descendant of the Dickensian "social novel" by way of Jonathan Franzen: epic fiction that lays bare contemporary culture clashes, showing us who we are and how we got here. Set in 2013 in the fictional town of New Canaan, whose purple-state divisions make it a microcosm of modern America, Ohio tells the tale of four lost souls mired in the past. 

Now in their late 20s, the friends are returning to "the Cane" on the same night, hoping to reconnect with their high school sweethearts and in some cases settle a score. Bill's an alcoholic idealist tasked by his estranged ex with delivering a mysterious package. Stacey, a lesbian PhD candidate studying the intersection of literature and ecology, is in town to confront her onetime girlfriend's spiteful mother, whose disavowal drove them apart. Dan is a veteran of two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, shell-shocked equally by war and by a breakup with the woman he sees as the love of his life. And Tina just wants vengeance on her former beau, a star athlete whose abuse has haunted her long enough. 

All the tension might be a bit heavy if Markley's prose weren't as lively as a bonfire, crackling with incisive details: the "Appalachian-accented wind" of the locals' speech, long-haul truckers listening to Tom Clancy audiobooks, Walmart "lit up like an army base." Markley's gift is keeping one eye on these intimate specifics and the other on the expansive landscape of modern American life; his characters' issues elucidate the universal discontents—economic inequality, addiction, homophobia, endless war, unchecked masculinity—that define the way we live now.
— Michelle Hart