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Return to Oakpine

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  475 ratings  ·  115 reviews
From a widely admired author, a poignant novel about homecoming, friendship, growing up, and growing old for fans of Richard Ford and Richard Russo

In this finely wrought portrait of western American life, Ron Carlson takes us to the small town of Oakpine, Wyoming, and into the lives of four men trying to make peace with who they are in the world.

In high school, these men
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published July 11th 2013 by Viking
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3.67  · 
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 ·  475 ratings  ·  115 reviews

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Melissa Stacy
Jun 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
DNF on page 8

Life is just too short for this.

Look, I love Ron Carlson. Truly. As an author of literary fiction, and as a person. I enjoyed reading his novels "Five Skies" and "The Signal." I have enjoyed his short stories.

But the 2013 literary novel, "Return to Oakpine," threw up too many red flags in the opening pages for me to continue.

The plot of this book is pretty straightforward: four able-bodied white middle-class men in their fifties reconvene in the small white town of Oakpine, Wyoming
do 50 year olds ever have sex? (i'll not answer that). author carlson sure doesn't think so. some huggin', bit of kissin', a brief torso rub up, but no sex. shame. the high school kids seem to fuck like rabbits in good ole oakpine, but the 50 year olds, nope.
there was a good question here though, in amongst the reminiscences, yuppies bitchin' bout how hardddd life is being a yuppy, a 50 year old yuppy, Q. what does a modern woman want? A. to save the folks in the burning house, to put the fire o
Neil Connelly
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 o ...more
Larry H
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'm a big fan of books that chronicle the reunion of childhood friends long separated. The opportunity to relate as an adult to people who knew you when you were younger, to see how life has affected them (and let them see how it has affected you), are tremendously compelling narrative devices, and if you combine those with a little bit of emotional poignancy, you've got a winner as far as I'm concerned. So it should come as no surprise that I was utterly taken in by Ron Carlson's wonderful new ...more
Chrissy (The Every Free Chance Reader)
Did I enjoy this book: I spent the first two hundred pages wondering if perhaps I’m not quite old enough to enjoy a book as notstalgic as Return to Oakpine. I didn’t notice I’d fallen in love until I’d nearly finished reading, and now I’m wishing I’d have read more slowly and enjoyed it a bit more (insert Yo Dawg meme here). The whole “everything is like high school” theme was a bit too blatant for my taste, and MILD SPOILER ALERT the timing of Jimmy’s death was just a touch too convenient to be ...more
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is a fast read but in this case this is not a good thing. Fast because I was going through the motions but not rememberable. I got about half way into the book. Which I stopped at chapter 6. Yes, this is a shorter book then my usual reading at 264 pages. Anyways, I went to pick up this book again to start reading it and promptly put it back down after a page and a half. The reason for this is because I could not remember anything that happened in the first five chapters/half of the book. No ...more
Charlene Intriago
This book was just okay for me. The story was so-so and even though there were a couple of times when I could relate to the story and the characters, it just didn't click for me.
David Abrams
Oct 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Is there any pen Ron Carlson touches that doesn't turn to gold?

I've fallen headlong in love with every book he's written (with the exception of the best-forgotten Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, an early clunker from 1977). His short story collection At the Jim Bridger is damn near perfect; The Signal is a harrowing story of wilderness survival; and you won't find a better novel about blue-collar work than in the pages of Five Skies.

In Return to Oakpine, Carlson turns a sentimental eye (perhaps
Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
Return to Oakpine is a portrait of western American life. Set in the small town of Oakpine, Wyoming, four men are trying to make peace with who they are in the world.

Decades ago, these men were in a band while in high school. Jimmy ended up leaving Oakpine when his brother tragically died. He became a successful novelist but returns home from New York City after thirty years, because he is dying.

We learn what has become of these friends and the different directions of their lives. Craig and Fran
Aug 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
2013 264 pages

the jacket of this book is a terrific set up for the story. I just needed a hammock to read this tender story of men reuniting after a 30 year separation just due to life choices.

This is a story of how a small town tragedy affected all 4 men and some of the women they knew. High school memories are shared, a garage band was created, whose speciality was "Help me Rhonda" and hearts are healed.

Be prepared to laugh and cry. Be prepared to remember your "first" days in high school. Be
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
There is something special about the friendships that are forged in young adulthood. There is also something about midlife that inspires the reexamination of life. Ron Carlson vividly tackles both of these themes in his latest novel Return to Oakpine. Set in a small town in Wyoming, the novel explores the lives of four friends, once members of an aspiring garage band, thirty years after their high school graduation. Craig Ralston married his high school sweetheart and manages the hardware store ...more
Jun 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Pub date July 2013, sold to me by the publisher as 'man lit' (as opposed to chick lit).

Kind of a mellow flowing picture of life in a small town, and how life turns full circle. Some of the descriptive passages were just beautifully written. I particularly liked Lenny-and his youth, energy, and magical descriptions of running. It almost inspires me to do the same-almost.

Summary from publisher: In the small town of Oakpine, Wyoming, four men are trying to make peace with who they are in the world.
David Pace
This is an exquisitely wrought book of middle-aged male friendship and its accompanying longing for the ineffable. It is also a lovingly detailed look at small town Mountain America life. That said, life in a the small Wyoming town of Oakpine is not rendered here in a sentimental way. In fact the catalyst for the story is the return of Jimmy who is dying of AIDS. What happens to 50+ year-old-men who once jammed together in a garage band before a tragic accident shortly after high school graduati ...more
Jul 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Part "coming of age" and "what have I done with my life" themes give this book energy and soul. The descriptions of light,landscape, and weather are evocative. Four 50 somethings reunite in a small Wyoming town. Two of them have stayed there. Two have returned, one to die. The teenage son of one of the men is featured as well- a great description of running by him sounds like something out of Zen. There was an accident that caused a brother to leave town. Carlson introduces them all to us at a l ...more
Nancy Rossman
Jul 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
I'm on the fence 4 or 5.

It is such a beautifully written, nostalgic piece without sentimentality and this, I find, is rare. I didn't skip a word, I sighed, I cried, and in the end felt the author resolved all the drama in a most believable way.

For men who have had friends and you're close but you don't talk the way women do, but some how you know each other. It's a look, a feeling, a thought immediately shared without speech and you think you'll have these friends forever, but you don't. Life ha
The two books of Carlson’s that I’ve read have been about friendship between men -a topic I don’t see a lot of. The first one I read didn’t do much for me, but I loved this one. Great character development, with Oak Pine playing a lead role. Men and women from multiple generations created friendships while playing football, writing, repairing houses, and playing in a garage band. Although male characters dominated, Carlson did a good job with the women, too. Some of the writing was incredibly po ...more
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
An enormously touching novel. Carlson does his usual good job of avoiding treacly, sentimental pitfalls--difficult in a story like this, with a large cast of characters constantly looking back at halcyon days and dealing with the wreckage of life. Best Battle of the Bands scene in any novel. Some very nice descriptive touches--surprising at times. Neither overwritten nor dumbed-down for middle America. Celebratory with just the right amount of cynical edge.
Jul 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novel, wyoming, guy-lit
This was such a mediocre book. The premise sounded interesting: four friends and bandmates reunite after 30 years when one of them has returned to their hometown of Oakpine, WY terminally ill. I've seen it billed as guy-lit, the female version of chick-lit, but the pace was too slow (even the book's barely 200 pages) and the dialogue often felt stilted. This book kept showing enough promise to keep me reading to the end, but it never really delivered.
Mar 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a good story. Maybe I identified with the characters and the timeline, having graduated in 1970 . There are so many books out now with a gay friend, but this one stands put. You can go home again.
Aug 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Bob, Robert, Kathleen, Alison, Sherry, Paul
Lovely writing that enabled me to be in Oakpine with these people.
Nov 01, 2016 rated it liked it

This is the story of four middle-aged friends who once played in a band while growing up together in small-town Wyoming. Two eventually moved away and two stayed in Oakpine. But when the friend who became a famous musician comes back home to die, the friends get together to play again.

Return to Oakpine was a little too commercial for me, but if you like a story that follows comfortable and predictable lines, then you might quite enjoy this. 3 stars
Feb 10, 2017 rated it liked it
A book about daily life, and about living daily life in a specific place. Some beautiful descriptions of place and of "real" characters. Not much plot other than the regular plodding of life and how we choose to live it.
Jul 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Had to take a break from devouring all the Inspector Gamache books, so picked this up at the library. A nice read. So different from what I have been reading that it was a nice change. A “homecoming” story set in Wyoming.
Jack Tracy
Affecting and evocative although predictable.
Nov 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked the characters and the premise of men getting together in a small Wyoming town years after high school but much of the dialogue seemed unlikely.
Mark Stevens
Oct 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"Return to Oakpine" starts with opening up a room, a “classic, one-bay garage.” The room is “wooden frame, plank walls, wooden shingles, peaked roof, a one-paned window with a layer of dust on it thick as speckled paint, and a little side door.”

This is the room where Craig Ralston, Jimmy Brand, Frank Gunderson and Mason Kirby had practiced “a hundred afternoons that fall,” long ago, in 1969.

And now the bay door to the one-bay garage won’t open. It’s thirty years later. Craig is with Jimmy Brand’
John Bond
May 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Having just read The Signal, this was slower and not up to the same zest.
Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: high school friends, old musicians

Big things happen in small ways in this novel. Punches get thrown but not many. Families decide to split or stick the way they usually do: amid a massive number of decisions about what to eat at the next meal and what to fix around the house after the meal.

This novel demands an unusual focus not on one hero but on an ensemble: a high school rock band inadvertently reunites after 20 years when two band members return home to the Wyoming town of Oakpine, which two other members never left. If the

Aug 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
When I began RETURN TO OAKPINE, I didn’t think I was going to like it after all and wasn’t sure I could even finish it. Within a few pages, however, I was pulled into Oakpine and had to know it’s people and their secrets.

The story unfolded layer by layer as the present mingled with thoughts of the past and what might have been. The story is about four men trying to figure out who they are and what they’re doing 30 years after their graduation.

Days after his graduation, Jimmy Brand left the small
Kathryn Balduf
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beautifully evocative of friendship and place.
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Ron Carlson is an American novelist and writer of short stories.

Carlson was born in Logan, Utah, but grew up in Salt Lake City. He earned a masters degree in English from the University of Utah. He then taught at The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut where he started his first novel.

He became a professor of English at Arizona State University in 1985, teaching creative writing to undergraduates and