When you’re 66, like the three longtime buddies in Richard Russo’s latest novel, you’ve got lots of events to look back on. One of the most devastating events in the lives of these three men is the driving force of Chances Are . . .—a surprising work that is as much a mystery as a meditation on secrets and friendship.
The friendship began at Minerva, a Connecticut college, in the late 1960s, a time when nervous young men wondered whether their draft number would draw a tour of duty in Vietnam. The three college buddies, all of them on scholarship, met when they were hired to sling hash at dinners for Theta house, the least rebellious sorority on campus: Lincoln as server because he was the most handsome, Teddy as cook’s helper, Mickey as dishwasher.
Each man comes from a lower-class background, which Russo describes at length in a long prologue. Lincoln’s mother lost most of the family fortune after her parents died. She then married Wolfgang Amadeus Moser, known as Dub-Yay, a domineering man who ran a copper mine. Teddy was a bookish sort who suffered a basketball injury in high school that had lifelong repercussions. Mickey, a construction worker’s son, disliked school but was passionate about rock music.
One of the common bonds the three men forged at college centered on Jacy Rockafellow, a child of privilege engaged to another child of privilege, a law student named Vance. Jacy’s engagement didn’t stop the three “hashers” from falling in love with her.
Then, in 1971, tragedy strikes. At Lincoln’s family’s house in Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard, Jacy joined the three men for a farewell Memorial Day weekend. But Jacy disappeared and was never heard from again.
Now, as the 2016 presidential campaign begins, the old friends gather at the Chilmark house for a September get-together before Lincoln, now a commercial real estate broker, reluctantly sells the property. Much has changed in their lives, but one thing hasn’t— lingering questions about what happened to Jacy that weekend.
Fans of Russo’s work will know what to expect from Chances Are . . . , including the many scenes of male bonding and the colorful dialogue. If some of the material is familiar, the book is nevertheless a moving portrait of aging men who discover the world’s worst-kept secret: You may not know the people you thought you were closest to.