Return to Oakpine

Ron Carlson's  (The Signal; Room Service) fourth novel, Return to Oakpine, is a lean, weathered and big-hearted tale. Back in the day, in Oakpine, Wyo., Jimmy Brand, Mason Kirby, Craig Ralston and Frank Gunderson bonded as members of a high school garage band whose graduation celebrations were overshadowed by the tragic death of Jimmy's brother. The four bandmates dispersed: Craig to serve in Vietnam, Mason and Frank (briefly) to college and Jimmy to New York. Craig and Frank came back and settled in Oakpine; Mason, caught up in his Denver legal career, visited rarely. For 30 years Jimmy remained in exile, visiting Oakpine only in his fiction. When Carlson's novel opens, in the fall of 1999, illness has forced Jimmy to move into his parents' garage at the same time Mason decides to spruce up and sell his childhood home.

Carlson shares his empathetic scope across generations, from the elderly Mrs. Brand to 17-year-old Larry Ralston and his friends. Among the characters who strive to live with grace and meaning are a philosophical football star who runs off excess energy on dark streets; an adult novelist shut out by his father because it's too late to say the "five or six sentences" that needed to be said 30 years ago; a "together" mom whose second-phase career as a museum coordinator is quickened with adulterous possibility. In Carlson's expert prose, the adults' midlife reckonings are revelations and the teenagers' discovery of adult agency are touching and raw.

Return to Oakpine is suffused with evocative landscapes and the practical yet lyrical details of work, whether a character is renovating a garage or editing a short story. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

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