Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block
Murky, beautiful and haunting, Stefan Merrill Block's novel considers the impact of racial divide
Oliver Loving explores a topic which many parents fear most: the loss of a child. In a small, racially divided town in West Texas, a shooter kills four students and wounds six others at their high school homecoming dance – an act which will tear the town of Bliss apart. Oliver Loving is among the wounded, and now lies paralysed and trapped in his own mind. Ten years later, when a new medical test reignites the hope that Oliver might yet wake up, questions of what happened that night – and why – resurface.
Block’s prose is exquisite, and a stark contrast to the ugliness it describes. The story unfolds slowly, allowing the reader to develop a relationship with Oliver’s parents, Eve and Jed, and his brother Charlie, as they continue their lives in a limbo not all too different to Oliver himself. They are weighed down by guilt, and by the question why: Why did Hector shoot those students that night? Why was Oliver in the hallway at that moment? Why did Rebekkah escape unharmed?
This is a book which requires patience and dedication. Oliver’s recovery takes its time, and his memories are unveiled at a leisurely pace. Equally, this book is complex: it considers the impact of racial divide, driven by political propaganda on immigration and the war on drugs, and the humanity of a young man who committed a monstrous act. Murky, beautiful and haunting, Oliver Loving is a critical re-evaluation of American society, and the consequences of its shortcomings.
Atlantic Books, 3 Jan, £8.99