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Return to Oakpine: A Novel Hardcover – July 11, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


"A love story and a wilderness adventure that mount to a climax of shocking, and satisfying, violence."
Los Angeles Times

"Carlson never drops an extra word or a false phrase, even as The Signal accelerates like an avalanche...If men can't be brought back to fiction by books as fine as this one, it's their own damn fault."
The Washington Post

"Powerful...a bittersweet love story and a rousing adventure."
The Miami Herald

"Read Ron Carlson's latest, The Signal, and you'll be convinced that the answer to your worries resides in the woods, in getting back to basics....It's a sweet, tidy little book about a broken rancher. And yet it won't just help you pass the time, it will help you out." — Esquire

"Long revered as a master of the short story, Carlson has a talent for describing landscape (both internal and external), and that translates here intact. At fewer than two hundred pages, it's beach ready, too."

"Ron Carlson is probably the best American writer you've never heard of."
The Daily Beast

"Uncommonly fine...Carlson's writing is crisp and blunt, much like the very Wyoming landscape he describes. The Signal is about small, tight things that widen out into immensities. it is about love and regret and the pain of loss and the wild parts of Wyoming." — Chicago Tribune

Praise for Five Skies:

"A life-changing work of fiction."

Los Angeles Times

"Carlson's style--low-key, deliberate, reminiscient of both early Hemingway and contemporay James Salter...can turn even a shopping list into a poem."

The Washington Post

"A masterpiece."
The Atlantic

"Ron Carlson's beautifully crafted and emotionally wrenching novel about nonverbal but deep-feeling males in flyover country is more refreshing than an ice-cold Coors." — Entertainment Weekly

Praise for Return to Oakpine

“Carlson’s new novel, with its themes of male friendship and second chances, hoes much the same furrow as his lovely previous books Five Skies and The Signal… Carlson’s crafted an emotive yet pellucid prose style that conveys the profound spiritual satisfactions of homecoming.”The Wall Street Journal
“As stirring and memorable and utterly rejuvenating a novel as you’ll read…Carlson infuses these pages with such conviction, such perfectly orchestrated pathos…the book is as lean and structured as a sonnet, and it has a split-focus climax as sharp as an ax.”The Washington Post
“In this new book of his, Ron Carlson has done a splendid job of making a reader feel at home in Oakpine…Carlson can sometime sound the music of the entire novel in a single sentence.”—Alan Cheuse, “All Things Considered,” National Public Radio

“Engaging…These men and their tender, disgruntled families get almost enough to sustain them, but not quite enough to calm the inner cry.  These characters will stay with you because this is how we are too.”The New York Times Book Review
“[An] eloquent and moving novel…the tension that drives Return to Oakpine [is] between what we want to do and what we need to do, between our dreams and our responsibilities.”Los Angeles Times
“In this novel by an American master, four middle-aged friends, once members of the same high school band, reunite in their Wyoming hometown thirty years later, reconciling the people they’ve become with the kids they used to be.”O, The Oprah Magazine
“Carlson excels in small-town Western Americana, in both embracing and interrogating nostalgia in quiet, controlled prose…a humane portrait of the lives we lead and leave behind, peeling back nostalgia’s gold veneer with grace, empathy, and a pragmatic sense of optimism.”Kansas City Star

About the Author

Ron Carlson is the author of five story collections and four novels, including The Signal and Five Skies. His fiction has appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, Playboy, GQ, Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. He is the director of the writing program at the University of California at Irvine and lives in Huntington Beach, California.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (July 11, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670025070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670025077
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #948,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Neil Connelly on July 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Whether you've been one of the multitudes following Ron Carlson for years or have only now come across him, this is a book you're sure to treasure. Decades ago, the four members of a small town garage band came together and captured something essential about youth. Now one, a prodigal who has lived in self-imposed exile, has returned home to die. How this shakes things up, for the rich ensemble cast of enthralling characters, gives Carlson a chance to juxtapose the whimsy, joys, and heartaches of being young with the hard-fought concessions and acceptance of experience. Full of lovely sentences, lovely scenes, of course it will have you floating through your own memories, but it also will make you take stock of where you are now. This is a deeply moving novel from a masterful writer.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on July 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In RETURN TO OAKPINE, his fifth adult novel, Ron Carlson has taken what could have been a mawkish story about four high school classmates who reunite in a small Wyoming town as one of them lies dying and instead has created an engaging miniature that reveals the strength and persistence of long-ago forged bonds of friendship.

In 1969, Craig Ralston, Frank Gunderson, Mason Kirby and Jimmy Brand formed a cover band they name Life on Earth. Thirty years later, Craig now runs Oakpine's hardware store and Frank owns a popular local bar. When Mason, a successful Denver attorney, returns to repair and sell his parents' house, and Jimmy, a novelist and critic, comes home from New York City, broke and dying of AIDS, the bandmates achieve an unplanned, improbable reunion. In a recent interview, Carlson described this novel as an "ensemble book," and that's an apt description of the carefully balanced role each of these characters plays in the story.

As he and Craig find themselves deep in a renovation project that's more satisfying to Mason than the lucrative legal career he seems ready to abandon, he quotes his father's observation that "part of us is always seventeen." While there's enough evidence in the relationships of these characters to validate that statement, Carlson roots the novel in the realities of their lives in the present, not in some nostalgic longing for the past. Craig's wife, Marci, teeters on the knife's edge of an affair with her boss at the local art museum, while Frank's ex-wife, Kathleen, still bitter about their divorce, has yet to come to terms with the fact of his marriage to a much younger woman.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By CAROL CUSTER on July 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
What a remarkable book this is! I've often read books where women friends reunite after a number of years; but in this book, we see the story from a male perspective. Four men who were friends in high school - on the football team and in a garage band - come together in their home town after not seeing each other for thirty years. There is quite a large cast of characters in the book, but it felt much like I was meeting them then getting to know them little by little. Craig never left Oakpine, but married Marci, his high school sweetheart, and took over his father's hardware store. He had dreams but had to focus on his family and his responsibilities. Mason was a successful lawyer in Denver who has come back to fix up and sell his deceased parent's house. Frank had his glory days as a high school football star who had a potential career ending injury - and now he owns a bar in town and lives with a younger woman after divorcing his high school classmate, Kathleen. Jimmy Brand left town 30 years ago after his brother Matt was killed in a tragic accident. He became a successful novelist, living in New York. He has now come home to die. He has Aids and knows his death is inevitable. Besides these late 40's characters, we have Craig and Marci's son, Larry who is graduating from high school and has dreams of leaving Oakpine. Through Larry and his friends, we see the youth perspective of living in a small Wyoming town.

To me, Oakpine the town was the main character of the book. The other characters were pretty much equal with their stories of hopes and dreams. I've never lived in a small town, but as a child I visited my Grandparents every summer in their small Nebraska town and it is that town I pictured as I read this engrossing book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie Ward on August 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover
3.5 Stars

'Return to Oakpine' is a contemporary adult novel that brings to life American life in the west in the setting of a small town called Oakpine, Wyoming. The novel focuses on four men and their friendship that has lasted for longer than they can remember. Each of them has grown up and continue to search for meaning in their lives, along with where they truly belong. The friends reunite when one of the four - Jimmy - returns to Oakpine several years after leaving because he has learned that he's dying and wants to reconnect with his old friends. Throughout the novel we get to read about each of the four friends - how their lives have turned out and how different they are from when they were in school together. We learn that they were in a band together in high school, and now that they have all returned to Oakpine, reuniting the band might just be the most important thing they can do. The story is an interesting and mostly original one. The characters were all well written and I enjoyed reading about their past when they were in school together as well as how each of their lives went after graduation. Their friendship is a very important aspect of the novel, along with other deep topics like family, grief, self discovery, and imagining what might have been. It's told with a natural pace and easy dialogue which made it a pretty quick read. Although the writing and parts of the story didn't get me fully engaged with the book or some of the characters, it was still an intriguing look into the lives of four men and the power of the friendship that they share. Recommended for fans of adult contemporary fiction who enjoy heartfelt stories of friendship and family.

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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