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Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

How ‘Chances Are’ Echoes Theseus and the Minotaur

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Image result for Chances Are Russo Book Cover

Chances Are…

By Richard Russo

What happens when a trio of aging college friends meet for a September weekend of reminiscence, mystery and regret some four decades after they graduated? Well, chances are they wind up with more than they bargained for, especially in the coulda/woulda/shoulda department.

Basic Plot & Characters

It’s 1971. Four college students – three men and one woman – spend a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard as their college careers wind down. The fellas are all in love with the same woman, Justine Calloway, aka: “Jacy.” One has a high number in the draft lottery for Vietnam. The weekend is a “last hurrah” before they go their separate ways after graduation.

And separate they do. Post-graduation:

  • Lincoln becomes a successful commercial real estate agent in Las Vegas with a family and grandchildren.
  • Mickey is a musician on the island.
  • Teddy is a small press publisher in Syracuse.

But what about Jacy? She hasn’t been seen or heard from since the day they left the island. Foul play is suspected. Hinted at. But there’s a difference between believing and knowing. A big difference.

Fast forward to 2015

On the cusp of old age, the three college buds reunite on the island as 66-year-olds. They gather at a house that’s been in Lincoln’s fam for decades – the same house where their college Last Hurrah took place. And started a ball rolling that hasn’t stopped.

The guys wonder how they came to be who they are. What happened to Jacy. And what happened to them in the last 44 years. Despite time and distance, the “Three Musketeers” remain the closest of friends.

Or are they?

The novel raises serious questions about secrets we keep. Even from best friends. And ourselves. Also:

  • All for one and one for all
  • Vietnam
  • Thomas Merton the Trappist monk
  • Creedence Clearwater
  • A chief of police who drinks too much
  • The We Don’t Do Right by Girls Club
  • Who’s Delia?
  • “Big Mick on Pots”
  • Sometimes we may want to unlearn what we find out
  • Why asking questions about the past might upset the present
  • Sometimes what we want the most is the one thing we can’t have. Ever.

Also burgers and beer. Lots and lots of beer. When the guys aren’t snockered, they’re feeling their age as well as regrets.

How Come…?

There’s lots for the reader to think through with this book. For example, why did Big Mick punch out another student back at Minerva College? Flee to Canada at the last minute instead of reporting for duty? Spur of the moment decision or did he not trust his pals enough to confide in them? Did Mickey really go to Canada to dodge the draft? Was he running from the cops after assaulting Jacy’s dad? Or something else?

Then there’s Teddy. His “chances” at what he thinks is True Love are pretty much done-ski after a spinal injury incurred playing basketball at age 16. Is Jacy’s ghost really dogging his none-too-spry steps on the island, four decades after she disappeared?

And why can’t the author enlarge or enrich these guys’ vocabulary? It’s as limited as a Bluelight Special at K-Mart.

Plot Problems

So, is Chances Are… an interesting read? Yes. Does it have intriguing characters and a robust back story with careful bridging to 2015? Sure. Strong internal dialogue fueled by humor as dry as the Atacama? Yep. But none of the characters are particularly sympathetic. And the plot teeters on the rim edge of prosaic and ponderous more than once. In fact, the story gets so tangled and twisted at times, it’s like tracking Theseus and the Minotaur.

For reasons that are never clearly explained, the author takes some superfluous jabs at sneeringly caricatured “Christians” and “Republicans” – for no real reason other than he can?

Oh. Kimber wants to know what idiot lets his dog, Clapton, have chocolate? (p. 176)

Biggest Problem-o

Besides the above, Chances Are’s biggest problem is the ending. After about 300 pages of what’s supposed to be searingly honest (?) soul searching by the main characters, the book just kind of ends. Thud. Feels like a dropped burger. Or maybe the ferry just ran out of gas?


Mom and Kimber’s score: 2.0

For more on our rating system, click here.

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