This book starts very slowly and this may put off some readers but I would beg everyone to continue reading as the book soon becomes mesmerising. Also, do not be put off by the unusual but beautiful writing style.
The book is about a high school shooting in the United States where a teacher and pupils are attacked including the eponymous Oliver Loving. The story starts ten years after the shooting. Oliver is still in a coma and at this late stage his family are at last demanding an examination to determine whether he still has any chance of recovery.
The book then goes back to follow events since the shooting and how it has affected Oliver’s family, especially his parents, who have since separated and his younger brother Charlie’s unhappy life as he tries to compensate for Oliver’s absence. It also traces the sad story of the shooting’s effect on the whole of the small town where it occurred, leading to its decline and growing mistrust between the local population and its Hispanic population, to which the shooter belonged.
The book is essentially an intense investigation of relationships, although we do gradually find out what happened on the night of the shooting and what motivated the perpetrator, as well as who else could be seen as holding some responsibility and who needlessly blamed themselves.
As is evident this is not a book with a lot of plot or action but it has much to offer those who are prepared to trust the author. I very much admired how Block describes the way Oscar’s family’s relationships change during the ten years after the shooting. He manages to convey the ambiguity and sadness of the process of coming to terms with Oliver’s predicament. The book is told from a variety of viewpoints throughout and this provides a rich portrayal of family dynamics.
Oliver Loving is by no means an easy read. It demands close and slow reading as the style is intense, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s extremely moving, especially the ending. It would provide much discussion for a reading group and is a rewarding personal read.
Sue Glynn 4/4
Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block
Atlantic Books 9781786492104 pbk Jan 2019