Criticism & Features

John Leonard Nominations

#NBCCLeonard: Michael Lindgren on Stephen Markley’s “Ohio”


The John Leonard Prize, our annual award based on member nominations and chosen by a panel of member volunteers, is awarded for the best first book in any genre. In advance of the announcement, we're inviting members to contribute appreciations of titles under consideration. (If you're interested in doing so, please email with the subject line Leonard.) Below, NBCC member Michael Lindgren writes on Stephen Markley's debut novel, “Ohio” (Simon & Schuster).

Stephen Markley's debut novel, “Ohio,” is in some key ways very old-fashioned, sitting squarely within the lyrical realist mainstream, with a straightforward narrative and a set of well-developed characters. In Markley’s case, though, he has very self-consciously set out to write A Big American Novel of Our Time; shockingly, he has largely succeeded. There are parts of “Ohio” that are almost painful to read, they are so beautiful and heartbreaking and true; if you grew up in a small town and went to a sports-mad public high school and fell in love with someone there for the first time in your life, you may find the emotional landscape that this book traverses downright harrowing. That’s not to say that the book is perfect — it has substantial flaws — but it is clearly something into which a talented young writer has thrown everything he has, and then some.