As author Stephen Markley stood in the glossy, newly remodeled bookstore, he recalled the Kenyon of his youth. It was there where, as a child, with sticky, candy-coated fingers, he says he discovered the delight of flipping through the pages of a book. This past Monday, Sept. 10, Markley came full circle, returning as a published writer to read from his new book to many of the people who knew him when he was still developing his love for literature.
Markley’s novel Ohio is a murder mystery set in a small, post-industrial town hit hard by the Great Recession and struggling with an opioid crisis and the consequences of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Markley explained that the town in his novel is a representation of many different small towns across the country. Though he stressed that the book is in no way a direct reflection of his home town of Mount Vernon, he was certainly inspired by his experiences there.
Markley’s characters come from a similar environment to that of his college peers. He recalls graduating from high school not long after 9/11 and watching many of his friends go off to war. He graduated from college to a United States in recession. He lost friends to heroin overdose.
“A kid I knew in high school just came up to me and we just started talking about how he had someone in his family die of a heroin overdose,” Markley said while explaining his inspiration for the book, “and it’s one of those things where this stuff is on your mind as a writer because it’s there and then you are pulling from those raw experiences and trying to translate that into character.” He went on to say that, even though it manifested itself in a fictional way, the base of the story comes from a subconscious place.
At a particularly polarized time in America, a book like Ohio provides a glimpse into a world that many people find difficult to understand. “I think that a human story about people going through what the country has gone through in a larger sense can be fascinating, but also healing,” Markley said. Through his work, Markley invites the possibility for empathy.
Though Ohio portrays a contentious side of the pain and loss in the Midwest, Markley is proud of where he comes from. He celebrates the strong bond he shares with his former classmates and community, many of whom came to see Markley read. There was a sense of incredible warmth in the air as Markley reunited with the people who were with him as he grew up. The room was packed as people clamored to take photos with their old friend and share stories of Markley as a child. Markley’s return to the community was greeted with warm support and enthusiasm.