Chances Are by Richard Russo: The Ish Mom Review

Cliches are, is more like it.

I wasn’t going to review Chances Are by Richard Russo. Cuz I thought I hated it. But, as my husband pointed out (“You sure can’t stop talking about or put down that book you don’t like.”), my feelings towards this book are more complicated than that.

Richard’s talent, despite it all, shone in Chances Are. Accompanying every eye roll was a wrist flicking page turn. While all the characters were alternatively tediously familiar or vulgarly blank, I was desperate to know their outcome. Is Chances Are a mystery? A buddy novel? A redemption story? Is Chances Are a reclamation of Russo’s roots or a mea culpa? I’m not sure. And judging from this unset aspic of a novel, Russo’s not either.
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Chances Are by Richard Russo

Three guys meet in college during the turbulent late 1960s-early 1970s and share life-affirming and defining adventures. Lincoln is The Successful One, Teddy is The Thoughtful/Afflicted One, and Mickey is The Rock n’Roll One. Jacy-the Manic Pixie Dream Girl they were all in love with-is The Dead One. She’s been missing since the summer of 1971. Every few years the men reunite; yes, out of affection, but also as a desperate attempt to ignore their physical decay and reminiscence about their Missing Musketeer.

In the summer of 2015, the three men gather at Lincoln’s summer cottage. Which is also the last place Jacy was seen alive. Lincoln, nagged by thoughts of selling the property and plagued by a bad back, embarks on some amateur detective work. This “dead girl” angle enables Russo to wedge characters like Joe Coffin (Retired Wry and Wise Cop) and Mason Troyer (Possibly Evil Trump Supporter) into this Stand By Me Sequel-esque work.

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Still Mad

Trajectory (Russo’s last fiction work, a collection of short stories) seemed to be a purposeful about-face from his typical settings and style, in response to a Newsweek article that accused Russo of sexism. I was not a fan of Trajectory. Certainly, Chances Are is a return to Russo’s roots. But I’m still not satisfied. It wasn’t the straying of Trajectory that angered me-it was the gracelessness displayed in the movement.

Chances Are is a comeback album. A greatest hits collection, if you will. Russo has thrown in new elements (the Madonna/Whore Complex Character is dead!) in an attempt to remix his chorus. While it has a good beat, Chances Are lacks grace the same way that Trajectory does.

Russo seems clumsy to me. The characters are bland, somehow both undefined and clunky. Jacy’s character is such a projection. she might as well be a puff of smoke. The whole thing is clichés on top of clichés.


But. I could not put Chances Are down. I was desperate to find out what happened to that ninny of a girl. Sleep could not be had until I found out exactly what was wrong with Lincoln’s lower back. Was bad boy Mickey actually like, bad? Probably not, but I’ll read through lunch to make sure!

Was my schedule particularly free? Or is Richard Russo such a master that he can write this stuff half-asleep with a half-baked murder mystery plotline thrown in and still entertain? Juries out, no, and I’m leaning towards yes.

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What books (or authors) do you have a love/hate relationship with? Let me know in the comments! Did you like this article? Share it!

Check out my last book review here!

Happy reading!


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Megan writes everything on Ish Mom. She possesses a bachelor's degree in psychology, a flair for theatrics, and a whole lotta nerve. She lives in the Midwest (and loves it) with her wonderful husband and three young boys.

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