Ohio is a story about a fictional small town in Ohio, New Canaan, “cradled in the state’s northeast quadrant, equidistant from the cities of Cleveland and Columbus…”. Ohio tells the story of the town’s long term devastating impact on a group of young people who grew up there.
The novel starts in October of 2007 with the New Canaan parade in honor of 22 year old Rick Brinklan, who was killed in action in Iraq in April of 2007. Rick had been the star quarterback of his high school football team. Rick’s high school girlfriend, Kaylyn Lynn, who had rejected his marriage proposal, attended but refused to speak. “In terms of our story, the parade was perhaps most notable not for the people who showed up but for those who were missing that day. Bill Ashcroft and nasty Tina, former volleyball star and First Christian Church attendee Stacey Moore. And a kid named Danny Eaton.”
The novel then moves to a time 6 years later, when all of the people missing from the parade, Bill Ashcroft, Stacey Moore, Danny Eaton and Tina Ross, each of whom had left New Canaan, return at the same time for different reasons. And through this return, we learn the haunting story and frightenly unlikely intersections of their lives.
The novel starts with Bill Ashcroft, who is telling the story of his life and his high school experience in New Canaan. Bill’s family was relatively well to do, his father a dentist and his mother a journalist with the local paper. Bill was romantically attached to Lisa Han throughout high school, but we learn that he also had a side relationship with Kaylyn. Bill was madly in love with Kaylyn. Bill was the high school political radical.
Bill returns to North Canaan from New Orleans, having been fired from his job writing media releases for a wetlands conservation group. He is being paid to transport a package from New Orleans to North Canaan. He does not know what is in the package, described as a rectangle, the length of a number 10 envelope, a few centimeters thick, which he has hidden in the back wheel of his truck. After a night of drinking at the Lincoln, coincidentally with Dan Eaton and former high school friends Todd Beaufort and Jonah Hansen, Bill runs out of gas and is forced to remove the package from the truck and tape it to his back. He goes on a drug and alcohol bender and then delivers the package to its owner, who happens to be a pregnant Kaylyn. The years have not been kind to her, one of the most beautiful girls in high school. The have a friendly reunion and she tells Bill she has done terrible things. We learn about these terrible things throughout the book.
Stacey Moore returns to New Canaan at the request of her best friend’s mother, Bethany Kline. Stacey had been involved with Ben Harrington, who became a moderately successful musician and who died of an overdose. Bethany’s daughter is Lisa Han, Bill’s former girlfriend. Lisa has not been seen since high school and has limited communication with her mother and her friends. Bethany and Lisa had a falling out and Bethany is hoping that Stacey can help find her. Stacey had been looking for Lisa over the years and has her own theory about Lisa’s whereabouts.
Dan Eaton had been involved with Hailey Kowalczyk in high school and she had wanted to marry him. But he enlisted in the military and redeployed for two more tours of duty and Hailey broke up with him. She was married and had a child when he returned for a visit and they reunited. The war had a visible and significant impact on him.
Tina Ross returns to New Canaan seeking to avenge the cruelty heaped upon her by her high school boyfriend Todd Beaufort, with whom she is still in love. This is a particularly disturbing part of the book.
Every character’s life is miserable in some way or another, some more extreme than others, all as a result of their New Canaan experience. In some ways the book is a horror story, particularly when you learn about some of the things the individuals have done to each other and the utter hopelessness of their lives. The book is well conceived and written and all of the lives and events are well connected. But the story is unpleasant and the misery of the community and the experiences are not well explained or understandable. Maybe Markley is telling us that small town life is insular and miserable. I certainly felt miserable and tortured when I was done, so if that was the intent, I say job well done. If you want to punish yourself with well written unpleasantness, then by all means read this book. It can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.