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The Realm of Last Chances

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  427 ratings  ·  71 reviews
In 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 Mass
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2013)
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3.39  · 
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 ·  427 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Yarbrough, with the same cleverness of the likes of Russell Banks and Richard Russo, delves into the complexity of life and the relationships that shape and define. Revealing the empty spaces we try to fill when what we have feels like it is falling apart and even worse when we feel nothing at all. The fabric of this story is a reminder of what we have and what we want are not always that far apart. Yarbrough creates characters and weaves them into overlapping stories of yearning. As each life u ...more
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads
Steve Yarbrough, where have you been all my reading life?

First off, a big thank you to Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman for giving me an ARC of this novel at Booktopia 2013. I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Yarbrough and in one of his talks, he mentioned the novelist and short story writer, Richard Yates, who I continue to say is one the greatest overlooked American writers. It was interesting to me, when a Yates novella was mentioned in this book. I gave a quiet cheer.

This is my second Yarbroug
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Pardon the length--this review was written for a local paper that did not end up running it:

William Faulkner famously said that he never needed to leave his “postage stamp of native soil” to write first-rate fiction. For Indianola native Steve Yarbrough, the native ground of Mississippi soil has indeed proved fertile, over a span of short story collections and novels that have established him as one of our best writers. But in his latest novel, The Realm of Last Chances, Yarbrough strikes out fo
Mary Scott
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Once again Steve Yarbrough has taken ordinary people with ordinary lives and given us an extraordinary story. Without a hero, without a mystery, and without any intricate plot the reader is drawn all the way inside the lives and minds of Cal and Kristen. I don't know how he does it! The gorgeous prose helps. I found myself wanting to underline or highlight passages, something I haven't done since first reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
My third Steve Yarbrough. I will read whatever this man writes because he has done no wrong thus far. This one was not set in the south as the other two I read, but in Massachusetts. The story of a middle aged couple who move across the country. Themes of faithfulness, identity, academia, music, friendship, home and more. There isn't a sentence that doesn't ring true. I was delighted to meet the author the day after I finished his book.

Next up:
Veneer (short stories)
Larry H
Nov 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Megan Strang
Aug 01, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book, my second by Steve Yarbrough in about a week. I think I enjoyed Safe from the Neighbors more, possibly because I'm also from the South and it all so seemed so familiar. He really does great characters and I look forward to reading everything on his backlist. Can't wait to meet him next week!
Jan 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
The Realm of Last Chances is about Kristen and Cal Stevens, a married couple who moves from the Central Valley of California to Boston after Kristen 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 ...more
SheriC (PM)
Are there any “literary” novels that aren’t grim and depressing? If so, I haven’t found any yet. My takeaway from this one is that (view spoiler) ...more
Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies
4.5 stars. very good insights into a troubled marriage.. people's pasts, dealing with personal relations at work - the line between the professional and personal and friendship between men. Loved it.
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Got this because of a few rave book reviews and he's a multiple prize winner, but I found it a slog. Normally the subject matter would be of interest, but I could care less about the unsympathetic characters and each chapter was immediately forgettable.
Feb 16, 2014 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Oh MY, I almost gave it a 5. 4.5 stars on this one and I am a super hard grader on the modern adult current era group or best sellers category.

This is a review that I could go on and on about for 20 paragraphs, as I held a job quite similar to Kristen's for my last 15 years in the work world. So give this author extra credit for getting the Academe tenure, politico, and schmoozing worlds superbly perfect.

And I will NOT go on for 20 paragraphs because the real people and connection relationship
(Lonestarlibrarian) Keddy Ann Outlaw
This book about a marriage nearing its possible end felt flat to me. A college administrator, Kristin, and her hulking, anti-social husband, Cal, move to Massachusetts from California. She as a new job at a rather podunk college. Her husband remodels their house, drinks a lot and plays his stringed instruments alone in the attic. They are very disconnected and it comes as no surprise to us when Kristin is swept up into an affair with a neighbor. A case of plagiarism at the college also figures i ...more
Apr 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
i wanted to know what it's like for older people to be in love, and unfortunately this book confirmed many of my suspicions. i didn't love how flashback heavy this book was, and how you don't know you're in a flashback until you're back to the present. it just seemed to jump around a lot. i kept waiting for the big moment to happen, and it never did. the ending fizzled and there was no real resolve. overall, something to do if you're really bored, but otherwise you can walk right past it.
Dec 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Linda by: Booktopia Vermont 2013 author 12-19-12
Shelves: botns, arc, own, signed, booktopia
Kristen and Cal move to Massachusetts after her job is eliminated as an administrator for a college in California. Cal takes care of the hosue and plays music though he does not consider himself a musician. The two slowly develop relationships with people they meet in their new homes. Most of the people in this book seem to have secrets. When will they spill out?
Mike Coleman
Nov 11, 2013 rated it did not like it
Disappointing. For a novel about an extramarital affair, it sure is dull. Other writers, Richard Russo comes to mind, have a way of celebrating ordinary people by making them interesting and likeable. That wasn't the case with this Yarbrough novel, at least not for me. I might give other novels by him a try, but this one just didn't work for me.
Nov 12, 2017 rated it liked it
For so much time spent on character development, it's a shame I couldn't find one to hold on to. A general feeling of life apathetic.
Steven Clark
Dec 13, 2016 rated it liked it
I read this book because a professor I know at my Alma Mater considers Yarbrough one of her examples of great writing. I found it a thoughtful story about middle-aged marriage, and since I used to live in Boston, I really liked the descriptions of the locale and nodded uh-huh at the train stops, roads, streets. That was fun. I did find Cal and Kristin engaging, but not too much. There was a coldness to the story. I felt that I wanted more, and to be honest, I couldn't finish the last eighty page ...more
AJ LeBlanc
Here’s another book that I liked and I don’t know why. Something about the structure worked well for me. It felt like the book was made up of slices and I only had a vague sense of the timeline, and I liked that. Time is told through New England weather and I wonder if readers from places where there are no seasons got stuck trying to figure out how long this story lasted.

The plot is one of frustration. Kristen and Cal have relocated from California to Massachusetts. They’re in their fifties and
Lynne Griffin
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Just finished reading my third book by Yarborough and he doesn’t disappoint. His stories are always populated with characters who have deep, rich backstories, and plots that test what they’re made of. Always a pleasure to read his novels. Looking forward to reading The Unmade World.
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed reading - the falling apart of a marriage and its causes.
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A solid novel with strong, unshowy writing. As someone who currently lives in Boston, it was fun to read a novel set in Boston/Greater Boston. Yarbrough passes among myriad third-person narrators, employing at times a successful use of flash forward/"what if" that points at the true omniscient nature of his narration. I was underwhelmed by the main subplot (violations of academic integrity at Kristin's new college) as well as the reveal of Cal's past violence, which more or less is the closing n ...more
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very absorbing read, well written, and insightful. Now I want to go back and read more Yarbrough. Usually, he writes stories of the modern South and usually I'm all over those.

But this is the first novel of his I've read, and while part of my initial attraction was that a couple moves to the North of Boston area (where I'm from) so the wife can take an administrative job at state college (love campus settings), ultimately it's the writing that made the book stellar.

The job market at four-year i
Feb 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-sent-to-me
The Short of It:

An unraveling marriage, an illicit affair with a younger man and an online book club is what prompted me to read this one.

The Rest of It:

Earlier this month, Gayle hosted a book club for The Realm of Last Chances and seeing that it had all the finer points of what I look for in a novel (a crumbling marriage, dysfunction, dishonesty and secrets) I jumped on board.

Kristen, a fifty-something, loses her high paid administrative job at a California university. She, along with her husba
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Realm Of Last Chances
Steve Yarbrough

My "in a nutshell" summary...a couple in their fifties has to relocate...we see what this experience does to a marriage...

My thoughts after reading this book...

This is the kind of book that I normally enjoy reading. Flawed characters who invariably make really questionable decisions make for really interesting reading. This book doesn't really fall away from that. The only problem with books like this is that I, personally, wince and cringe at their choi
Sep 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-fiction
“He felt as if he’d stepped into the realm of last chances, where the ice is thin and apt to break and caution is no currency.” Yarbrough knows how to write a sentence. This is a story of characters who have looked defeat square in the eye, and are now just existing. Each of the main characters survive by isolating themselves, even in their marriage, family, and friendships. Kristin, the main character, has lost a prestigious job at one of the University of California’s schools in northern Calif ...more
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014-reads
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 ...more
Sonya Doernberg
Nov 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
At last a story where the characters are in their fifties!!!! This was my first Yarbrough book, although I remember reading stellar reviews of his work in the past. At one point, I forgot that this book was written by a man, because it is so character-driven. I remembered the writer was male when I came to a detailed description of a house re-wiring project. We have similar electrical problems in our house and I proudly read those pages to my husband--because I don't touch that kind of stuff in ...more
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Born in Indianola, Mississippi, he received his B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of Mississippi and his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas. Writing largely within the Southern tradition, he draws his themes and characters from Southern history and mores in ways that have been compared to Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, and Willie Morris.

Yarbrough's major wo