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The Realm of Last Chances Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 6, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385349505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385349505
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #915,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“What an exhilarating, intelligent, beautifully complicated novel. I love how richly peopled it is and I love the exact New England landscapes… But I think what made me read this book in a single sitting was the voice and the way in which it allowed me both to know and to not know Kristin, Matt and Cal. That combination makes The Realm of Last Chances wonderfully suspenseful. Every character has a secret sorrow.” —Margot Livesey

“Steve Yarbrough stands among the first rank of contemporary novelists, and stands alone with the deep compassion and humanity he brings to his characters and their stories. The Realm of Last Chances is what all novels strive to be—boldly provocative, reflective, witty, and wise, and deeply insightful of the outer and inner workings of people, couples and communities, muddling along through life together. This novel is that rare achievement, a page-turner that also turns pages within the reader.” —Jeffrey Lent

“Here's a riddle. What happens when you turn loose a world-class southern writer in an old New England town and tell him to have at it?  Answer: Steve Yarbrough's magnificent new novel is what happens. The Realm of Last Chances reveals how it's not just Faulkner territory where the past isn't past, as Yarbrough explores the way one's family and community can both condemn and redeem us all, wherever we live. This beautifully-written story is the most honest, insightful, and, ultimately, affirmative novel about love under great stress that I've read in years.” —Howard Frank Mosher

“This beautifully wrought book [is] so keenly observed that its depiction of these three lost souls conveys outsize emotional force. . . . The brilliance of this quiet, subtle novel stems from how it turns a light on the kind of lives that so often go unremarked, suffusing them with compassion, empathy and rare beauty.” —Michael Lindgren, Washington Post

“The passions and disappointments of these characters hit home. Why? Because Yarbrough allows the opening and closing of chasms between these individuals the proper space and time to develop, thus allowing them the chance to achieve maximum resonance. By the end, we feel as if we, like Yarbrough’s soulful figures, have wandered into the titular, despairing realm of last chances, in which we push ourselves away aggressively from loss, and then return, somewhat wiser. For isn’t this the way all of us move through our lives, when all is said and done, at one time or another?” —Max Winter, The Boston Globe

“Wonderfully resonant. . . Yarbrough is a great storyteller [and] a brilliant social observer [who] possesses a talent for detail that elevates The Realm of Last Chances to a novel that makes readers more observant about their own lives.” —Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune

“In his latest novel, Yarbrough strikes out for territory beyond the South. . . What emerges is the portrait of a marriage tested to its breaking point. . . . The reader is left hoping that we all, as one character tells Kristin in Yarbrough’s characteristically fine dialogue, ‘add up to much more than the sum of our mistakes, no matter how many we may have made.’ It is on such notes of universal longing and regret that Yarbrough stakes his claim to being much more than a regional writer. The Realm of Last Chances is a fine novel unbound by geography. . . and he shows us that the real territory of his fiction is not geographical at all, but the unmapped terrain of the heart.” —Matthew Guinn, The Jackson Clarion-Ledger

“Yarbrough has written a deeply intelligent and wildly moving story about the many permutations of love, betrayal and redemption.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

About the Author

Born in Indianola, Mississippi, Steve Yarbrough is the author of five previous novels and three collections of stories.  A PEN/Faulkner finalist, he has received the Mississippi Authors Award, the California Book Award, the Richard Wright Award, and another prize from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.  He teaches at Emerson College and lives with his wife in Stoneham, Massachusetts.

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Customer Reviews

This book made me want to read more books by the author.
Staci Beasley
The Realm of Last Chances provides us with a subtle, moving exploration of relationships, loneliness and our convoluted attempts to reach out to one another.
Tonya Speelman
There are several minor characters and some interesting backstory, but no real character development.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alan A. Elsner VINE VOICE on August 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
All the characters in this absorbing novel are cheats of one kind and another -- and all pay a price.

The main protagonist is Kristin, a middle-aged academic turned college administrator who has lost her job at a prestigious university in California due to cutbacks and is forced to take a new one at a third-rate school on the North Shore of Boston. She's accompanied by her husband, Cal, a taciturn guy who fixes homes and has, as the book reveals, a love of playing mandolins and guitars and a streak of shocking violence within him. Their marriage has pretty much withered away but they stick with each other, partly because neither wants to go it alone.

We also meet Matt, who works at a sandwich shop having lost his job as chief purchasing officer at a large bookstore because he was cheating the customers.

All these characters live lives of quiet desperation to one extent or another. And we also learn that Cal's father was a cheat -- a property developer who cut corners and built shoddy apartment blocks. Kristin's father was also a cheat -- he slept with the next door neighbor, mother of Kristin's best friend growing up. And her mother was a cheat. She stayed in a loveless marriage - because she had an unrequited passion for the same neighbor.

Kristin is quickly drawn into a plagiarism scandal involvement two professors up for tenure and uncovers a trail of cheating by one of them. And Cal breaks up a robbery of a convenience store.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J Newton on November 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Nice pacing. Fun insights on modern academic issues. The author is obviously taken with New England culture. Well written and structured.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Larry Hoffer on November 6, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Some books wow you with suspense, incendiary violence or action, or tales of magic and fantasy. Some books pack the same power in a much quieter way, nearly sneaking up on you, until you realize they've knocked you for a loop, whether because of the beauty of the language used, the characters, or the authors' storytelling ability. Steve Yarbrough's latest novel, The Realm of Last Chances, definitely falls into the latter category, but that doesn't change the fact that it hooked me completely and really moved me.

Cal and Kristin Stevens are forced to leave their longtime California home and move across the country, after Kristin loses her job as a university administrator and finds a position at a lesser state school in Massachusetts. The move takes a toll on both of them in more ways than simply having to acclimate themselves to cold weather and more outgoing people. Both in their early fifties, they live quiet but mostly separate lives--Kristin finds herself embroiled in the day-to-day political issues of her job, while Cal, whose taciturn manner belies deep-rooted regret and anger, spends his days restoring their home and playing guitar and mandolin, which he excels at but really only enjoys when he is alone.

"The notes not played, he always believed, were at least as important as the ones you did play, and the same was true with words: some things didn't need to be said, but sometimes she couldn't stop saying them."

Matt Drinnan, an aspiring author forced to start his life over after some mistakes completely derailed his job and his marriage, spends his days trying to fill the emptiness, while dealing with the fact that his ex-wife is involved in a new long-term relationship with another man in his hometown.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dewitt P. Henry on September 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read this in two sittings. The yearning for community comes across powerfully in our deracinated world, as this mid-life couple from different regions leave a life together in California for one north of Boston. Despite our childhood roots, we root ourselves in dailiness wherever we locate, and Yarbrough is masterful at providing an everyday that is at once estranged and seeking substance. At heart this is a novel about late adultery, while in fact middle aged marriage and partnership is the true last chance. Yarbrough's complicated characters take it. The texture of their world is the base note against which the narrative melody plays.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bibliophile from Missouri on August 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I have been a fan of Steve Yarbrough's work since I happened across his short story collection Veneer: Stories. Each new book that followed did not disappoint. His stories were about ordinary people, living under ordinary circumstances, and what made Yarbrough's work so memorable was his almost uncanny ability to write recognizable characters who nevertheless keep our interest and manage to surprise us. As one reviewer pointed out, these characters are not out of the ordinary--they're not vampires or fortune tellers--but they are interesting and real, and Yarbrough's portrayals feel extraordinarily authentic.

Because Yarbrough's work is almost always set in Mississippi, barring a few short stories, I was surprised to discover his latest novel, THE REALM OF LAST CHANCES, was set in Massachusetts. I picked up my copy with a little trepidation, wondering how a Southern writer who writes so exquisitely about the South would fare in New England.

It turns out I need not have feared. THE REALM OF LAST CHANCES is perhaps Yarbrough's most touching work to date. The novel details the transitions of a middle-aged couple, Kristin and Cal, who have recently relocated from California to a small town near Boston. Both of them struggle to adapt, though in different ways. Kristin has lost her job at a decent California university and now must learn to work in a very different environment. Yarbrough's university scenes are among the novel's wittiest, as he exposes the kind of hypocrisy and insecurity that often underlies the most pompous of academics. Cal finds himself spending most of his time alone, working on the house and playing his mandolin.
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