Book Notes: Stephen Markley’s Ohio

I’ve been wishing for a novel in English that would speak about economic dispossession, the opioid epidemic, the effects of the deindustrialization, the economic crash of 2008, the Iraq war, and the costs of neoliberalism. And now I have finally found it in Stephen Markley’s Ohio.

It’s an excellent novel, beautifully written. The writer is ultra woke but that doesn’t matter because, as always happens with talented books, the text becomes bigger and stronger than the author’s beliefs. The woke characters in the novel are self-involved miserable bastards. The only character who is an honorable person worthy of respect is a church-going Republican. And the only solution to the devastation wrought by neoliberalism is family, kindness, and loyalty to friends. No ideological difference matters more than the past you share with people, says the novel. This goes directly to what I said yesterday: we are fed ideology to distract us from being robbed.

There’s a lot of depravity portrayed in the book. This is very hardcore reading, so if you have a low tolerance for gore, I don’t recommend. I loved the novel even though it’s depiction of reality is way too grim and hopeless for me. Finally, somebody is writing about things that matter.

I also need to mention that I’m impressed by the way Markley writes about the war in Iraq. The woke character who regales everybody with passionate diatribes about how the US deserved 9/11 and should be punished for its colonialism is a smug, stupid idjit whose careless condescension makes him complicit in a murder of a small child. It’s also really funny how this leftist bastard from early two-thousands says identical stuff to today’s seemingly rightist preachers of “the West is fighting against Russia in Ukraine.” The two characters in the novel who do enlist to fight in Iraq are the smartest, the most decent and the most human people in the novel. I have no idea what the author was hoping to say but to me it’s clear that the novel’s ultimate message is that wokeness is a dead end.

5 thoughts on “Book Notes: Stephen Markley’s Ohio

  1. This reminds me that I wanted to recommend Tana French’s ‘Broken Harbor” to you. It’s an Irish novel set after the 2008 crash. I don’t want to give too much away, but a large part centers on a young family that bought into everything the economic boom of the early 2000s was selling and left their close-knit neighborhood in Dublin to move to a far flung new development that has wiped a small seaside village off the map replacing it with a sea of identical houses that are left half finished and crumbling when the crash hits. There’s lots about the false/superficial benefits of prosperity driven by the financial industry and tech investment in Ireland and the loss of friendship and community that it brought.

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      1. I read “The Searcher” a while back and thought it was only OK. But I circled back to her this summer and read “In the Woods” and “Broken Harbor” and I thought both were great. I hope I’ll manage a few more before I have to think about fall classes.

        BTW, can I ask what you thought of the “animal” that torments Pat? It’s clearly a symbolic manifestation of something, but I could never make up my mind exactly what it was supposed to represent.

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        1. I think Pat needed a purpose. An organizing principle of existence. We don’t feel fully human without an organizing principle. And it had to be an animal because we feel most human next to animals. But Pat’s animal proved as elusive as his sense of purpose.

          I read it a while ago but this is what I remember thinking back then.

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          1. I 100% agree that Pat needed a purpose to maintain his identity/mental health, but I think there was something going on at a different level. I had two thoughts on it. There are various passages referencing nature in dark brooding ways. (The Irish sea is clearly going to be there churning away when all of the people and those shoddy houses are gone and long forgotten – it’s in the title of the novel; Broken Harbor, not Brianstown.) I wondered if in his madness (brought on by having nothing to do) Pat’s mind had become attuned to the dark/destructive aspect of nature which manifested itself in the “animal” which was causing him to destroy the fake happy shiny world they were living in.

            My other thought was that the “animal” might be the embodiment of consumerism / materialism. They can no longer “feed” the animal because they don’t have jobs and money, so the “animal” has come to “feed” on the family. The wife’s desperate need to keep up the façade of affluence is ultimately what drives them into isolation destroys the family. In the end, she’s the only one who can’t perceive the “animal” because the “animal” is inside of her. The little boy says he can hear it (though I think he’s afraid to tell her) and the little girl draws a picture of the animal at school which causes a bit of a freak out.

            I should probably read it again and take notes to sort it out. 🙂

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