Tag Archives: steve yarbrough

Online Book Club: THE REALM OF LAST CHANCES by Steve Yarbrough

The February online book club pick was The Realm of Last Chances by Steve Yarbrough. The discussion of that book will take place today here on EDIWTB, with the participants commenting below.

The Realm of Last Chances is about Kristin and Cal Stevens, a married couple who moves from the Central Valley of California to Boston after Kristin is laid off from her college administration job in California. She finds another job at a third-tier college outside Boston, and the two start their lives over again on the East Coast. However, it turns out only to be a fresh start geographically. The couple, who had been growing apart in California, find themselves even more distant from each other in their new home. Cal, who was a handyman  in California, spends his days playing stringed instruments and fixing up their new house. Kristin finds herself embroiled in new but familiar challenges facing college administrators, such as professor plagiarism and tenure negotiations. As the book progresses, we also learn about the skeletons in Kristin and Cal’s closets – failed marriages, broken homes, violence – and how they shaped the main characters.

Matt Drinnan, the Stevens’ neighbor and a man with his own troubled past, meets the couple shortly after their arrival in Massachusetts. Ultimately his relationship with Kristin drives her and Cal further apart, as he seeks his own reinvention and redemption for his own transgressions.

The good: I liked the glimpse The Realm of Last Chances gave into these unusual characters’ lives. I feel like I read so many books about urban thirtysomething parents, and it was refreshing to explore the lives of these struggling middle-aged suburbanites. Yarbrough’s writing is crisp and descriptive. There are themes throughout the book – infidelity, forgiveness, and how well we really know our partners – that I thought Yarbrough skillfully weaved among multiple characters and contexts.

However, I don’t think I really got this book. I found a lot of it implausible – how could Kristin and Cal have been so incurious about each other’s pasts? do people really ask relative strangers to hold them? can one really read lips looking through a window between homes? – and much of the rest of it was either too convenient or just kind of boring. I got to the end of the book, which felt slapped on and too tidy, and wondered what the point was. I didn’t feel very optimistic about these characters’ futures – they just kind of limped off into the sunset.

I enjoyed the beginning of The Realm of Last Chances more than the end. Kristin and Cal’s disorientation upon arriving across the country, her introduction to her new job – those were compelling. As the story progressed, however, it sort of lost me. The plagiarism storyline didn’t make much sense to me – how was Kristin to blame for how the story came to light? – and the grand reveal about Cal’s violent past seemed inopportune.

Depressing-o-meter: 6. It’s gloomy and defeatist at times, but ends on a positive.

Goodreads abounds with very positive reviews of The Realm of Last Chances, so there are clearly many fans of this book out there. I am eager to hear what the other book club participants felt about the book. Did it grab you? Did you find the plot to be plausible? Do tell.

Thanks to Knopf for facilitating the book club!


February Online Book Club: THE REALM OF LAST CHANCES by Steve Yarbrough

I am excited to announce the next EDIWTB online book club!

If you’re new to the book club, this is how it works: I choose a book, and the first 20 EDIWTB readers who want to read it get a review copy from the publisher. Once the book gets sent out, you will have about 3 weeks to read it. Then, on a pre-selected day, I post a review of the book here on EDIWTB, and the conversation around the book continues in the comments section. That’s it! Very simple.

The January/February online book club selection is The Realm of Last Chances by Steve Yarbrough. Here is a synopsis from Knopf:

yarbroughIn a captivating departure from the Deep South setting of his previous fiction, Steve Yarbrough now gives us a richly nuanced portrait of a marriage being reinvented in a small town in the Northeast, in his most surprising and compelling novel yet.

When Kristin Stevens loses her administrative job in California’s university system, she and her husband, Cal, relocate to Massachusetts. Kristin takes a position at a smaller, less prestigious college outside Boston and promptly becomes entangled in its delicate, overheated politics. Cal, whose musical talent is nothing more than a consuming avocation, spends his days alone, fixing up their new home. And as they settle into their early fifties, the two seem to exist in separate spheres entirely. At the same time, their younger neighbor Matt Drinnan watches his ex-wife take up with another man in his hometown, with only himself to blame. He and Kristin, both facing an acute sense of isolation, gravitate toward each other, at first in hope of a platonic confidant but then, inevitably, of something more. 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.

If you’re interested in participating in this online book club, send me an email to gweiswasser@gmail.com with the following:



Email address

Please don’t skip lines – just send it in a block that I can cut and paste. I will submit the first 20 names to Knopf for review copies.

Thank you to Knopf for again facilitating the book club!

THE END OF CALIFORNIA by Steve Yarbrough

I saw my brother (an EDIWTB reader) over the weekend, and he confessed to me that while he enjoys the blog, he doesn’t get many book suggestions from it. “I think it’s kind of aimed at women readers,” he told me.

I don’t disagree. Most EDIWTB subscribers are female (although I have no idea who else is out there reading), and honestly, I am drawn toward female writers and books about relationships, families, and other topics that I suspect are usually pursued more by women than men. I have, however, made an effort to include male writers — see recent posts on Bruce Wagner, Larry Watson, Kazuo Ishiguro — and today is no exception.

I read a review over the summer of The End of California, by Steve Yarbrough, and thought to myself, “looks good… and looks like a guy book.”  From The Washington Post:

Yarbrough In the new novel, a 42-year-old doctor named Pete Barrington returns from California to his little home town in Mississippi. He started there as a poor farm boy, but brains, looks and football talent helped him advance to college, medical school and a good life out West. An adulterous affair with a patient ended that, and now he, his wife and their 15-year-old daughter are starting over back home. Yarbrough’s story blends elements we have seen in other novels — the small-town South, the football hero grown up, passions that reach back to high school, a little incest and a lot of extramarital sex, racial tensions, hypocrisy among the pious — but it all works because Yarbrough knows his characters so well, cares for them so deeply and writes of them in prose that is graceful, precise and packed with surprises.

From Amazon:

Borne on a thematic construct of revenge, Yarbrough’s latest novel whisks his many fans back to the small Mississippi town of Loring, the home front during World War II. Here he peers behind contemporary curtains to assess the domestic conditions within. Pete Barrington grew up in Loring, but a sticky situation sent him off to California, where he went to medical school, got married, and had a daughter. Now he returns to Loring with his family and sets up a medical practice. Old wounds are consequently opened, to the point of spilt blood. In addition to revenge, this is also a tale of tested loyalties: between friends, spouses, children, and even the community as a whole. With a relentless sense of doom thickly building from page one, it is nevertheless difficult to anticipate exactly where the plotline is leading, which works well in a psychological novel with thriller overtones. Small-town ambience, with its conventions and crowdedness, its secrets and suspicions, is evoked with careful detail. Each character over whom a dark past looms is given both understanding and individuality.

Here is a post about The End of California from D.C. native author Porter Shreve’s website.  Kind of cool: he has a playlist of Steve Yarbrough’s favorite mix CD on there.  Here also is an interview with Yarbrough from the Southern Literary Review.

So, what do you think? Is this a guy book? Or is there no such thing?