#FridayReads 2021-06-04 ‘Chances Are’ and ‘Once Upon A River’

My wife and I graze on the same vast TBR Tundra, a landscape of books that extends beyond the horizon, but we consume according to our moods and preferences and so end up reading different things. As I listened to her descriptions of the books she’s been reading recently, two of them stood out as strong mainstream reads so I decided to make them my focus this week.

When I selected them, I didn’t think they had anything in common beyond my wife’s recommendation. On the surface, the books don’t have different content and themes – one is contemporary American fiction, the other is English historical fiction, strongly laced with magical realism. One author is male, the other female, One is American, the other British. When I looked deeper I saw that both writers are ex-academics who have doctorates in American and French literature respectively and both of them are fascinated by storytelling: what it is, how it works, why we need it and how it shapes the truths we see.

I’m hoping to get as much enjoyment out of these books as my wife did. I’m looking forward to spending time with two master storytellers.


‘Chance Are’ by Richard Russo (2019)

My first Richard Russo book was ‘Empire Falls’, which made it onto my list of Twenty-Five Books That Are Significant To Me. The book impressed me because the people and the place seemed real and the storytelling was aimed at helping me to see them and their world rather than at dealing with the conflicts in the plot. I found out afterwards that it had won a Pulitzer and immediately praised the judges for having the same fine sensibilities as me.

I next read, ‘Nobody’s Fool’ again set in a small New York town but this time centring on Sully a man ‘who has been doing the wrong thing triumphantly for fifty years.’ What struck me about this book was that it manages to be generous without being soppy. The people are shown clearly, with all their flaws, but they are accepted and understand rather than rejected and judged.

I’m drawn to ‘Chances Are’ because it was written by a master storyteller in his sixties about men in their sixties. I’m at that age myself and I’m curious to see how Richard Russo depicts growing old, the physical and emotional changes that it brings and what it means to be carrying so much past around with you.

I’m hoping for a book that lets me get to know these men and understand how they’ve become who they are and what they mean to each other.


‘Once Upon A River”by Diane Setterfield (2018)

‘Once Upon A River’ will be my first book by Diane Setterfield. This book is in my TBR pile because the cover is beautiful and clever, the title tickles my language-is-fun button and because it got such positive press when it came out.

So why haven’t I read it already? Well, it’s long (464 pages) and I bought the paperback (to get that pretty cover) but I struggle a little with the text and because I had this nagging doubt that this would be one of those magical realism books that everyone praises but which slips off me like olive oil on Teflon.

So now I have the audiobook version (all sixteen and a half hours of it) read by Juliet Stevenson and I have my wife’s comments about how well this book deals with the concept of storytelling in various forms while telling a good story. She’s also read enough of it aloud for me to know I’ll enjoy the language.

I’m eager to read this for myself now, letting the language float the ideas and the people over my imagination.


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