cover image Oliver Loving

Oliver Loving

Stefan Merrill Block. Flatiron, $26.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-16973-0

Block (The Storm at the Door) once again explores the ways in which debilitating illness breaks apart tenuous family bonds in his unsettling third novel. Set 30 miles north of the Mexico border in west Texas, where closed storefronts outnumber what’s in business and sentiment against “illegals” runs high, the book opens with a shooting at a school dance that leaves a popular teacher dead. Four students also die, including gunman Hector Espina Jr., the 21-year-old son of an undocumented Mexican sanitation worker. Seventeen-year-old Oliver Loving survives and is discovered on the floor covered in blood by his father, Jed, but he is in a vegetative state. Over the course of the next decade, the event takes its toll on the townspeople, especially Rebekkah Sterling, a crush of Oliver’s who escaped the shooting, and Oliver’s guilt-ridden family members. Jed descends into drunkenness; Oliver’s mother, Eve, maintains a myopic bedside vigil; and Oliver’s younger brother Charlie flees to New York, but never pulls his life together. When a new test shows signs that there is activity in Oliver’s brain, hope is tentatively restored, but at a steep cost for everyone involved. Block discloses the truth of what happened at the shooting by telling the story from different perspectives. Though the lead-up to the big reveal is perhaps too long to sustain itself, the book poses big questions about what constitutes a life worth living. [em](Jan.) [/em]