Book Notes: Richard Russo’s Chances Are…

I have no idea how I managed to miss Russo’s new novel last year but I did. Russo is one of the best writers in America today. He writes in the great realist tradition that nobody does better than Americans. Chances Are… is the novel where Russo comes the closest to the tradition of the great Wallace Stegner, and I’m glad the writer is going in this direction.

Unlike some of Russo’s best work, Chances Are… isn’t about the working class. The protagonists are three men in their sixties who vacation on Martha’s Vineyard (so definitely not working class) and remember their youth.

There’s a mystery that the protagonists are trying to solve, a great plot, and very memorable characters. It’s a very enjoyable novel, in short. There should be more novels about men who are being men and trying to figure out their male lives. As one reviewer pointed out, the novel drips with testosterone, and I think that’s great.

However.

There’s one thing I don’t get about Chances Are… The author set the novel on the eve of the 2016 presidential election and linked every character to the most primitive political stereotypes.

The Democrat in the novel is an impotent, immature, constantly terrified fusspot who is incapable of forming a family or procreating.

The Republican is very good at procreating but he’s a judgmental, rich, clueless guy who is comically conventional and incapable of going through life without his wife controlling every aspect of his daily existence.

The non-voting guy is a layabout whose only child is an opioid addict.

And the Trump voter is obviously a rich wife-beating, rapey bastard who is rude, hateful, racistsexist, and anti-education.

There’s even a scene where a group of “Christian tourists” comes to the Vineyard, and the tourists can’t agree on which Republican candidate they support. Of course, the most stupid, rude, and downright disgusting of them turn out to be Trump voters.

I’m not sure why any of this is in the novel. Everything else is so much better than these primitive stereotypes. My enjoyment of the book was undermined every time the Democrat demonstrated his terror of the physical aspects of human life and the Trump voter shook his naked beer gut at strangers. If anybody on here reads the novel and has an explanation for this, please share. There must be something, some plan or goal that I’m not seeing.

It’s still a great novel, though.

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