Chances Are . . .: A novel

Chances Are . . .: A novel

by Richard Russo
Chances Are . . .: A novel

Chances Are . . .: A novel

by Richard Russo


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A NATIONAL BESTSELLER from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls • Three men in their late sixties—old friends from college, each with a secret—come together on Martha’s Vineyard in this “gripping, wise, and wonderful summer treat.” (The Boston Globe).

“A cascade of charm…. Russo is an undeniably endearing writer, and chances are this story will draw you back to the most consequential moments in your own life.” —The Washington Post

One beautiful September day, three men in their late sixties convene on Martha's Vineyard, friends ever since meeting in college in the sixties. They couldn't have been more different then, or even today—Lincoln's a commercial real estate broker, Teddy a tiny-press publisher, and Mickey is a musician beyond his rockin' age. But each man holds his own secrets, in addition to the monumental mystery that none of them has ever stopped puzzling over since a Memorial Day weekend right here on the Vineyard in 1971. Now, forty-five years later, three lives and that of a significant other are put on display while the distant past confounds the present in a relentless squall of surprise and discovery. Shot through with Russo's trademark comedy and humanity, Chances Are . . . introduces a new level of suspense and menace that will quicken the reader's heartbeat throughout this absorbing saga.

Look for Richard Russo's new book, Somebody's Fool, coming soon.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101971994
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/07/2020
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 166,927
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

About The Author
RICHARD RUSSO is the author of nine novels, most recently Chances Are..., Everybody’s Fool and That Old Cape Magic; two collections of stories; and the memoir Elsewhere. In 2002 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, which, like Nobody’s Fool, was adapted into a multiple-award-winning miniseries; in 2017, he received France’s Grand Prix de Littérature Américaine. He lives in Port­land, Maine.


Gloversville, New York

Date of Birth:

July 15, 1949

Place of Birth:

Johnstown, New York


B.A., University of Arizona, 1967; Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1979; M.F.A., University of Arizona, 1980

Read an Excerpt


September was the best month on the island. The crowds were gone, the beaches empty, the ocean still warm. No need for restaurant reservations. After Labor Day, the politicians had all returned to D.C., the left-wing Hollywood/media types to L.A. and New York. Also gone were the smug, privileged frat boys, many of whom imagined themselves Democrats but who in the fullness of time would become mainstream Republicans. Half of Lincoln’s Las Vegas agency—or what was left of it after the Great Recession—was made up of Sigma Chis who’d been long-haired pot smokers and war protesters in the sixties and seventies. Now they were hard-line conservatives, or anyway harder than Lincoln. These days, a lifelong Republican himself, Lincoln had a difficult time finding comfort anywhere on the political spectrum. Voting for Hillary was out of the question, but if not her, then who? A baker’s dozen of GOP candidates were still in the race—some legitimately stupid, others acting like it—at least through Iowa. So Kasich, maybe. Bland wouldn’t be so bad. Think Eisenhower.

Anyway, a relief to shelve politics for a few days. Lincoln had little doubt that Teddy, who would arrive tomorrow, was still a raging lib, though there was no way of telling whether he’d be in the Clinton or the Sanders camp. Mickey? Did he even vote? Probably not a bad idea to give Vietnam a conversational miss, as well. The war had been over for decades, except not really, not for men of their age. It had been their war, whether or not they’d served. Though his memory was increasingly porous these days, Lincoln still remem­bered that evening back in 1969 when all the hashers had gathered in the back room of the Theta house to watch the draft lottery on a tiny black-and-white TV someone had brought in for the occasion. Had they asked permission to watch on the big TV in the front room? Probably not. The social boundaries of sororities, like so much else in the culture, had started eroding, as evidenced by their regular Friday afternoon hasher parties, but they could still crop up unexpectedly. Hashers still entered the house through the rear. Anyway, the draft wasn’t about the Thetas, it was about Lincoln and Teddy and Mickey and the others. Eight young men whose fortunes that night hung in the balance. A couple were dating Thetas, as Lincoln would the following year with Anita, and planned to see them later in the evening, but they’d watch the lottery on the crappy little set in the back room, not the big color one in the front room, because they belonged there, as did the war itself.

They’d made a party of it, everybody chipping in for a case of beer—strictly against the rules, but Cook wouldn’t squeal, not that night. The rule was that you couldn’t start drinking until your birthday had been drawn and you knew your fate. Mickey’s came first, shockingly early. Number 9. How was it that Lincoln could recall this detail, when time had relegated so much else to memory’s dustbin? He remembered, too, how his friend had risen to his feet, his arms raised like a victorious boxer, as if he’d been hoping for precisely this eventuality. Going over to the aluminum tub, he’d pulled a beer out of the ice, popped the top and chugged half of it. Then, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he’d grinned and said, “You boys must be feeling pretty dry in the mouth right about now.” The other thing Lincoln recalled was glancing over at Teddy and seeing that all the blood had drained out of his face.

Absent from these vivid memories, though, was how he’d com­ported himself. Had he joined the others in serenading Mickey with the Canadian national anthem? Had he laughed at the god-awful jokes (“Been nice knowin’ ya, Mick”)? He had a dim, perhaps false, memory of taking Mickey aside at some point and saying, “Hey, man, it’s a long way off.” Because even those who’d drawn low numbers probably wouldn’t hear from their draft boards for months, and college students were allowed to finish that academic year. Most juniors in good standing—as Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey were—would get one-year deferments to complete their degrees before reporting for duty. Maybe by then the war would be over or, failing that, winding down.

Later that evening Lincoln called home, hoping his mother would answer, though naturally it was his father who picked up. “We watched,” he said, his nasal, high-pitched voice exaggerated by the tinny, long-distance connection. “Like I told your mother, they won’t go beyond one-fifty.” As with all his father’s opinions, this one was expressed as fact.

“Unless you’re wrong and they do,” Lincoln said, emboldened, perhaps, by being three thousand miles away.

“But I’m not and they won’t,” Dub-Yay had assured him, prob­ably to allay Lincoln’s fear, though he sometimes wondered if his father’s pronouncements served some other, more obscure purpose. Ever since his mother let him in on the truth about their family finances, his father’s declarations had begun to tick him off. “How did the other Stooges make out?” Dub-Yay wanted to know. (Lin­coln had told his parents that he and Teddy and Mickey, so unlike the preppy Minerva boys with rich parents, had come to think of themselves as the Three Musketeers, to which his father had imme­diately responded, “Three Stooges would be more like it.”)

Lincoln swallowed hard. “Mickey got nailed. Number nine.”

“It’s a foolish war,” his father conceded. “But you don’t get to hold out for a just one.”

Lincoln supposed he agreed, but it still annoyed him that his father would be so cavalier where his friends were concerned. “What would you say if I went to Canada?” Lincoln ventured.

“Not one blessed thing.” This statement was delivered without hesitation, as if Dub-Yay had been anticipating the question, given it some serious thought and was anxious, as always, to share his conclusions. “The moment you did that, you would no longer be my son, and we wouldn’t be speaking. I didn’t name you after Abraham Lincoln so you could become a draft dodger. How fared Brother Edward?”

That was his nickname for Teddy, who’d visited them in Dun­bar that summer. Lincoln’s mother had liked him immediately, but Dub-Yay hadn’t been impressed. It was W. A. Moser’s deeply held conviction that a single round of golf would reveal everything you needed to know about a man’s character, and he had made up his mind about Teddy on the first tee when he failed to remove his wristwatch. Nothing pleased Wolfgang Amadeus more than to extrapolate the world from a grain of sand. In retrospect, though, Lincoln doubted the wristwatch incident had anything to do with his misgivings about his friend. More likely Teddy had said some­thing provocative about the war or remarked that all the members of the Dunbar Country Club were white and the staff Latino.

“Teddy’s safe,” Lincoln said. “Three hundred–something.”

“Just as well. I can’t imagine what earthly use that boy would be in combat.” Or anything else, he seemed to be saying.

Had Lincoln even spoken to his mother that evening? Here again, memory, like a conscientious objector, refused to serve.

What was etched vividly in Lincoln’s brain, however, was the moment when all three Musketeers emerged from the Theta house and found their beautiful d’Artagnan shivering in the December cold out back. Just as he remembered the shameful thought that had entered his head unbidden—You lucky dog!—when she took a surprised Mickey in her arms and hugged him tight. You had only to glance at Teddy to know he was thinking the same thing.

Jacy. Vanished from this very island. Memorial Day weekend, 1971.

Reading Group Guide

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s conversation about Chances Are . . . by Richard Russo.

1. The title of the book, Chances Are. . . , echoes the Johnny Mathis song (also titled “Chances Are”) that the characters sing on their trip to Martha’s Vineyard after their college graduation. How does the song relate to the theme of chance throughout the novel?

2. Lincoln, Teddy, and Mickey all watched the Vietnam draft lottery together, and their numbers were called at different times. How does this experience affect the rest of their lives? How much of their lives was left to chance and how much did their choices affect their outcomes in life? Did Jacy have choices in her life or was she a victim of chance?

3. All three men had vastly different relationships with their fathers, but all were greatly influenced by the men in their lives. Discuss the theme of fatherhood in the novel and the differences between these fathers. Does Russo seem to favor one father over the other? Do the characters control who they become as adults? Or are their personalities affected by their fathers?

4. Lincoln’s view of his father changes when his mother reveals his family’s past and financial position. How does his view of his father change and why? How does Lincoln’s father influence how Lincoln views masculinity? How do Teddy and Mickey view masculinity throughout the novel?

5. Discuss the setting of Martha’s Vineyard. What does the house represent to Lincoln and the rest of the characters? What does Minerva college mean to them? How do you think the novel explores regionalism in the US—the East Coast vs. the South, etc?

6. The characters’ professor, Tom Ford, referred to himself as the “last of the generalists,” striving to learn as wide of a range of topics as possible rather than mastering one. What do you think he’s trying to achieve, and why do you think Teddy, out of the three men, was the one most attracted to this concept? Why do you think Russo included this character in the book?

7. Throughout the three men’s college years and their adult lives, Jacy is the subject of their fantasies and idolization, but later in the novel they discover that they hardly knew her as well as they thought. What did Jacy mean to these men, and what did they mean to her? What does that post-graduation weekend at Martha’s Vineyard symbolize to these men?

8. In the scene where Officer Coffin talks to Lincoln about domestic abuse, he explains how the officers used to handle the cases before he retired. Discuss the following passage. How does this relate to how society looked at female victims of abuse at large? How does this relate to Jacy’s history of sexual and physical abuse and her parents?

Coffin, pg. 204:
“Then tell me. What’s my point?”
“That we don’t do right by girls?”
The other man cocked his head, his eyes narrowing dangerously, and Lincoln could read his mind:
Are you making fun of me, Lincoln? And he did his best, wordlessly, to convey that nothing could be further from the truth.
“No, Lincoln, that would be my . . . my overarching theme. My point is that when we take this jerk-off outside, it’s really him we’re trying to protect, not her. If he keeps this up, something bad is going to happen to him, and we don’t want that.

9. The novel alternates between Lincoln’s and Teddy’s points of view, but we don’t hear Mickey’s point of view until near the end of the novel. When did you notice that you hadn’t heard from Mickey yet? What did you think this meant, and how did your perspective of Mickey change after you read his chapter?

10. Mickey showed brief outbursts of violence and rage throughout the novel, including an episode in college when he randomly beat up an SAE pledge without much cause. Why do you think he punched the pledge, and where do you think this rage comes from?

11. Before Mickey runs off with Jacy, he planned on respecting his draft obligations. Discuss the following passage where Mickey imagines a conversation with his father when he is contemplating fleeing to Canada. Why do you think he changes his mind? What does it mean to him to give up his plans to report to the draft? How does this factor into his decision-making, and why does he ultimately decide to go to Canada?

Mickey, pg. 234:
This war.
It’s stupid, Dad.
They’re all stupid. That’s not the point. What
The point is, if you don’t go, somebody goes in your place, capisce? Look around right here, this diner. Half a dozen guys your age in here. A couple right over there in that booth. Which one should go in your place? Point him out to me, because I can’t tell.
The point is nobody should go.
Yeah, but somebody will. Some poor bastard
is going.

12. Teddy’s life was dramatically affected by a spinal cord injury resulting from a basketball incident. What parts of Teddy’s life were affected by chance and which were determined by his choices? Did he have choices in his relationships with Jacy? With his boss Theresa?

13. Jacy at first chooses Teddy, but then once she discovers his impotence, she chooses Mickey. What makes her act on her romantic impulse for each man, and what attracts her to them? How would the story have turned out differently, if Teddy and Jacy would have ended up together instead? Would it have been different at all?

14. Teddy often falls victim to “spells.” What triggers these spells, and what are they? How does Teddy approach his mental health?

15. The novel often oscillates between the past and the present. How does the past bleed into the present throughout this novel? What do you think this novel says about retrospection and nostalgia? How does the past affect the characters’ present, and how do they each approach their pasts?

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