top of page
Top of Blog





wine patio book .jpg
  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Ocean State

ISBN: 9781666534986

Publisher: Dreamscape Media

Publication Date: 03/15/2022

Format: Audiobook

My Rating: 3.5 Stars (ARC)

In the first line of Ocean State, we learn that a high-school student was murdered, and we find out who did it. The story that unfolds from there with incredible momentum is thus one of the build-up to and fall-out from the murder, told through the alternating perspectives of the four women at its heart.

The murderer Angel, her mother Carol, and the victim Birdy, all come alive on the page as they converge in a climax both tragic and inevitable. Watching over it all is the retrospective testimony of Angel’s younger sister Marie, who reflects on that doomed autumn of 2009 with all the wisdom of hindsight.

Angel and Birdy love the same teenage boy, frantically and single mindedly, and are compelled by the intensity of their feelings to extremes neither could have anticipated. O’Nan’s expert hand paints a fully realized portrait of these women but also weaves a compelling and heartbreaking story of working-class life in Ashaway, Rhode Island. Propulsive, moving, and deeply rendered, Ocean State is a masterful novel by one of our greatest storytellers.


In “Ocean State,” O’Nan is subverting the thriller, borrowing its momentum to propel this bracing, chilling novel. Whereas thrillers tend to use murders as a prurient jumping-off point, the entryway to the reader’s pleasure — that chance to play Columbo or Kinsey Millhone in our heads — O’Nan takes his time, humanizing this story to make the hole where the victim was suitably substantial.

The New York Times

“Ocean State” is the story of a murder, but it wouldn’t be right to call it a mystery, because the killer’s identity is established in the very first sentence. Even as he inverts the form, veteran novelist Stewart O’Nan effectively keeps you turning the pages quickly with this tragic story of teenage love.

—StarTribune – “Told through multiple voices, “Ocean State” examines the murder of a young girl”

Despite the banal surface, this novel invites us in — we want to know these people, learn about their complexities. In the end, they’re as interesting as you or I; O’Nan’s great gift is that we want to know more about every person he writes, no matter how unremarkable they seem from the outside.

—Boston Globe – “A murder in the suburbs – Ennui meets passion in O’Nan’s latest novel”

In the first pages of this reversed psychological thriller, we learn that teenage Angel has killed a girl; soon there’s little question as to whom and why. (“Love.”) In flashbacks, the suspense comes from peeling back the layers in Stewart O’Nan’s immersive character studies.

—Vanity Fair – “8 New Books To Read This Month”

“This isn’t a crime novel; it’s a Shakespearean tragedy told in spare, poetic, insightful prose.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Stewart O’Nan’s haunting and fleet Ocean State tunnels deeply into the heady, hard lives of the vivid young women at its center. Half-broken and full of longing, these women move us deeply. As the story hurtles toward an act of violence that feels both impossible and inexorable, we find ourselves wanting to stop and protect all of them.”

—Megan Abbott

“From Speed Queen to The Good Wife to Emily, Alone, Stewart O’Nan has been one of the best chroniclers of the lives of American women. He writes about the single mothers, the watchful daughters, the neighborhoods where loyalty and struggle are echoed in hard work and marriages on the rocks. In Ocean State he writes once again about the women I know so well—who work as convalescent aides, in grocery stores and factories, mothers searching for one more chance at love, and daughters finding their first loves, with tragic consequences. I could not put this book down, and finished it so fast, and I keep seeing the rainy shores and abandoned mills, the three generations of women in America.”

—Susan Straight

“One of Stewart O’Nan’s many gifts is a keen and unflinching eye lit with an abiding compassion for his characters, all of which is on display in his mesmerizing new novel, Ocean State. Set in the forgotten streets of post-industrial, blue collar Rhode Island, this timely and gritty tale takes us deeply into the lives of girls and women who must navigate the kind of loss that can either break or strengthen the ties that bind us all. Ocean State is a gem glittering in the darkness.”

—Andre Dubus III

“Stewart O’Nan is out to break your heart in the most beautiful way. He is writing with his full power unleashed. This book is a classic.”

—Luis Alberto Urrea

“In the opening paragraph Marie (who would be right at home in a Shirley Jackson novel) tells us the awful thing that’s going to happen, but of course, she doesn’t reveal the whole mesmerizing, devastating story. O’Nan has the integrity to not flinch, not even once, while expertly imbuing his characters with empathy, insight and authenticity. A uniquely 21st Century American tragedy, Ocean State wraps its hand around your heart and squeezes.”

—Paul Tremblay

“What O’Nan has done perhaps better than anybody else the past ten years is deliver the complexity, heartbreak and human drama of everyday people living everyday lives.”

—Jonathan Evison

Is there any location riper for noir than a small town high school? Except maybe the heart of a teenager? Stewart O’Nan’s new noir novel Ocean State, isn’t so much a “whodunit” as a “why-dunit” story of the murder of a teenage girl and the ripples the crime and its aftermath cause in a small town and to the families who live there

About the Author

©Trudy O’Nan

Stewart O’Nan’s award-winning fiction includes Snow Angels, A Prayer for the Dying, Last Night at the Lobster, and Emily, Alone. Granta named him one of America’s Best Young Novelists. He lives in Pittsburgh.

My Review

Hauntingly Beautiful!

Stewart O'Nan's latest OCEAN STATE is more of a "whydunit" and "how" versus a "whodunit" story of a family being tested. Readers are made aware in the opening chapter of the murderer. You know the name. How will they choose to move on from the tragedy?

A teenage girl is murdered, the ripples of the crime, and its aftermath— both for the family and the town. Set in the moody Rhode Island, near the coast in a mill town, a slow-burning noir crime and at its heart is about love. The things we do for love often make us do horrific things—from greed, jealousy, and the extreme emotions of love.

Could be ripped from today's headlines. Set in a small working-class small town with no place to escape where everyone knows your business, from gossip, social media, family rivals, and of course, the small high school.

It's 2009, and the Oliviera family of three has moved to Ashaway, R.I., across from the Line & Twine, the town's mill.

Angel, the murderer, Carol, her mother, and Birdy, the victim. Told through the alternating perspectives of the four women. Marie, the younger sister, is the watcher. She idolizes her older sister, Angel.

Watching over it all is the retrospective testimony of Angel's younger sister Marie, who reflects on that doomed autumn of 2009 with all the wisdom of hindsight.

"When I was in eighth grade my sister helped kill another girl."

Carol is a hardworking divorced mother, barely scraping by with dead-end boyfriends and constantly moving. How will she handle the fallout?

Angel thinks her life will be better with someone from a different class. A first love. Myles is her rich boyfriend and not so smart. Not sure why these girls are so obsessed with him. Myles will be headed to college soon and Angel is getting worried he will slip from her. She is desperate. Does she really think this is a means to escape this town?

Needless to say, Birdy a high school senior has her eyes set on Myles even though she has a boyfriend. Angel, of course, does not like this. A kiss. She needs Birdy out of the way, now!

A novel of sisters, mothers, and daughters, and the terrible things love makes us do.

The author is a brilliant writer, with 20 novels under his belt. OCEAN STATE may very depressing for some with mixed reviews. However, this is America the ugliness. Teens, kids, and adults killing others over basically nothing. Our world is evil. In most other books, you would discover the murderer at the end of the novel. Here, he chooses the beginning.

O'Nan does a great job in exploring the lives of before and after and where each winds up. My word of advice would be to know this before going into the book. It is the fallout. How a family handles a child or sister, a friend that commits murder, and events leading up to the murder.

I have read other books by the author and enjoy his writing style. However, this one was not one of my favorites. I am not a huge fan of teen drama and was not convinced she was sorry for her actions. There are consequences. However, this is fiction.

I also listened to the audiobook and the narrator, Sara Young never changed her voice as most do, so it was a little difficult to follow who was speaking.

No doubt the author is highly talented and will continue to read his books. I am a big fan of literary fiction. This book may not be a good fit for everyone; however, the author does a good job of exploring the evils of humanity, and the whys of a working-class family. As always his writing is lyrical and beautiful.

My recommendation would be to read the book versus the audio format and go into it not looking for a suspense page-turner thriller, but more as a noir and the different contrasts of social and economic climates. From poor/rich, popular/unpopular, with much peer pressure.

The cover and the author drew me in. This book reminded me a bit of Heather Gudenkauf's Before She Was Found. Also, fans of authors Randall Silvis and Elizabeth Strout will enjoy this one (big fan of both).

A special thank you to #NetGalley and #DreamscapeMedia for an audio ARC.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Pub Date: March 15, 2022



bottom of page