Lincoln, Teddy, and Mickey were college friends who worked together cooking and cleaning for a women’s sorority house in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Their paths diverged on the military draft night of December 1969.
“Earlier, while serving the girls’ dinner, they’d been in the same boat, but now their birthdays made individuals of them, people with singular destinies, and one by one they drifted away, back to their dorm rooms and apartments, where they would call their parents and girlfriends and discuss the fact that their lives had just changed, some for the better, others for the worse, their grades and SATs and popularity suddenly beside the point.” [Loc 113]
“Lincoln and Teddy, both luckier on a night when that – not smart, not rich – was what you wanted desperately to be” [Loc 126]
All three were in love with Jacy- a young rich woman who lived in the sorority. Over 50 years later the three men gather back to Lincoln’s family vacation home on the east coast. The main topic of discussion is what happened to Jacy. No one seems to know and the speculation is widespread. There is a touch of murder mystery in the story.
After describing the events on draft night, Russo masterfully drops back into the men’s childhoods and we see the formation of three distinct characters. Russo is one of my favorite novelists and his skills are on display in this story. The characters are richly drawn and distinct. He carries much of the action forward through dialog instead of droning on in narrative. In other words, Russo shows his characters through dialog and action rather than merely describing.
At one point during the weekend the stresses of being with old friends are evident to Teddy:
“It came to him that the whole weekend had been a mistake, a misguided attempt to preserve something already lost. Clearly the friendship that had served them all so well had played itself out. Whey the graduated from Minerva, they’d somehow, without meaning to , graduated from one another.” [Loc 2274]
But they keep working through that tension to come to a resolution. Most of the story is told from Lincoln and Teddy’s points of view. After a few turns, including a battle with a neighbor, we learn what happened to Jacy. As the title implies and as we watch the characters past and present, we understand the influence that chance has on one’s life. Our parents play enormous roles in our lives – whether by action or inaction.
Perhaps this novel speaks to me so profoundly because I remember the draft numbers being pulled for my age group. Five of us were together; three received very high numbers, Dave and I were not so lucky, getting 13, and 25. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t drafted and the Vietnam War was over by the time my student deferment was over.
Richard Russo is just fantastic at examining the nuances of lives and relationships. His characters are so real. If you are familiar with Russo’s work, you may have already made an appointment with yourself to pick it up. If you are not, this is a great place to start. I started my blog reading reports too late to discuss the Russo’s earlier work, but you can find my reports on Richard Russo’s later works here on my blog. Mohawk and Empire Falls are his masterpieces, while Nobody’s Fool and Everybody’s Fool are probably his most popular; the former was made into a movie staring Paul Newman