Everyday People share button
Stewart O'Nan
Format Paperback
Dimensions 5.58 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.78 (d)
Pages 304
Publisher Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication Date April 2002
ISBN 9780802138835
Book ISBN 10 0802138837
About Book
The New York Times calls Stewart O'Nan "a master of voices and the place they resonate from, of human rhythms and the universal rhythms they cut across." Here, O'Nan captures in heartbreaking detail and embattled black neighborhood in Pittsburgh: A teenaged boy paralyzed while spray-painting graffiti on a bridge; the mother of his child trying to get through college part-time; his brother, recently out of jail and newly religious; their father, who harbors a dark secret; the local politician how wonders where he went wrong…

About the Author:
Stewart O'Nan is the author of five previous novels, including the acclaimed A Prayer for the Dying. He lives in Connecticut.


From Barnes & Noble

The Barnes & Noble Review
The "everyday people" of Stewart O'Nan's luminous new novel are the beleaguered residents of a fictitious, predominantly black Pittsburgh community known as East Liberty. With wit, precision, and imaginative empathy, O'Nan shows us the hidden essence of this archetypal American city and successfully illuminates the inner lives of a dozen closely observed characters.

Dominating this collage of shifting perspectives is 18-year-old Chris "Crest" Tolbert, a graffiti artist left paralyzed by a recent fall from a highway overpass. As Chris struggles to adjust to his newly circumscribed life, he meditates on the death of a friend and fellow artist; attempts to reconnect with Vanessa Owens, the mother of his infant son; and makes his way, with infinite difficulty, toward a renewed sense of purpose. Chris is surrounded by a gallery of characters -- family, friends, neighbors, and strangers -- facing comparable difficulties of their own.

Chris's father, Albert Tolbert, falls hopelessly in love with a younger man, and that hidden relationship strains his marriage to the breaking point. Eugene, Chris's born-again older brother, tries -- and fails -- to save the life of a lost, embittered boy. An elderly neighbor loses both of her grandsons to the ongoing epidemic of urban violence. The local ice cream man watches helplessly while a teenage customer -- a boy he has watched grow up -- steals his truck. And Vanessa Owens, a waitress and single mother with a newly awakened interest in African-American history, finally learns the true identity of the father she has never known. As Vanessa discovers during the course of this novel, everyone has a story, a private history hidden from general view.

Like all first-rate novels, Everyday People is many things at once: a precisely detailed portrait of a modern urban war zone, a meditation on the interrelationship of memory and art, and an extended reflection on the inevitability of loss. It is also -- like O'Nan's previous novel, A Prayer for the Dying -- an account of ordinary people tested by extraordinary events. Faced with a succession of large and small tragedies, O'Nan's characters struggle to maintain a bedrock belief in something, whether it be art, music, family, history, love, politics, or religion. As Chris's weary, long-suffering mother observes in the closing pages, "Tragedies...come and go. Only faith stay[s] the same." In Everyday People, O'Nan acknowledges both the tragic dimension of his characters' lives and the stubborn nobility of their constant search for a sustaining form of faith. The result is a moving, quietly audacious novel that reaffirms O'Nan's position as one of the best, most unpredictable writers to emerge in America in recent years.

--Bill Sheehan

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly

Crest Tolbert, 18, was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair after slipping, along with his best friend, from an overpass he was tagging with graffiti. His friend died from the fall. His father, Harold, is having a homosexual affair, a fact he cannot admit to his family, whom he would leave if it weren't for Crest's condition. His mother is certain that Harold is cheating on her with a younger woman and is torn between setting him free and trying to win him back. Vanessa, Crest's girlfriend and the mother of his son, has enrolled in her first college class and is learning about the rich history of their people. Eugene, his brother, is a reformed gangbanger, a born-again Christian whose mission in life is to save young gang members before they end up in prison. Although this is not one of the brilliant O'Nan's best efforts, Esposito comes through with a brilliant reading of the text. His quickness and ease with street slang and verbal posturing fit the characters perfectly and make listening to this tale of day-to-day struggle a truly engaging experience. Simultaneous release with the Grove hardcover (Forecasts, Nov. 20). (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Library Journal

O'Nan's depictions of the African American families in East Liberty, a small enclave near Pittsburgh, are startling: the two teenage graffiti artists who fall off a bridge, one killed, the other trapped in a wheelchair; the boy murdered in a turf war; the former gang member who got religion in prison; and the single mother trying to better herself. Additionally, having Giancarlo Esposito to read this book was inspired. The only problem is that, despite all the inherent possibilities for drama, listeners are left with mere description. For more than two tapes, the words simply drift past, floating from one character to the next, interesting but never engrossing. Finally, on the second side of tape three, the narrative asserts itself, and we begin to follow changes in the characters' interactions, even if transitions from one scene to the next are often muddled. This reviewer was left questioning the abridgment; descriptions of Vanessa's college class, for example, which don't further the tale, could easily have been omitted. As it stands, with its extremely pat conclusion, this audiobook has little to recommend it. Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News,"New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews

O'Nan's aptly titled sixth novel explores a Pittsburgh neighborhood with the same nonjudgmental empathy and respect for ordinary folks already evident in his first, Snow Angels (1994). People in East Liberty have very mixed feelings about the Martin Robinson Express Busway. It will supposedly bring jobs, and it's named after a black congressman who's done a lot for the community, but it'll also cut off the African-American area from the rest of Pittsburgh. Moreover, it was the scene of a bad accident before it even opened. Spray-painting an unfinished walkway, two teenaged graffiti artists fell: Bean was killed, and his friend Crest was paralyzed. Crest is one of the central characters in a narrative that roves through East Liberty to weave individual memories and dreams into a collective portrait. Crest's father, Harold, struggles to get over an affair with a younger man, while wife Jackie seethes. Older brother Eugene, recently out of prison and newly religious, is trying to build a life without drugs or violence, though he fails to save his junkie friend, Nene, or Nene's angry younger brother. Vanessa, who broke up with Crest shortly before the accident, raises their son and holds down a job while taking a college course on African-American culture more out of a sense of duty than any burning interest. Crest, though never a good student, has a stronger sense of his heritage; he plans to portray members of the community and other blacks who have given their lives for their people in a painting that ultimately becomes the author's moving symbol of art's power to celebrate the spirit of those society prefers to ignore. Although O'Nan limns Crest's consciousness in the hip-hoprhythmsof young urban black speech, he chronicles other characters' thoughts in more conventional language, emphasizing the variety of African-American lives and the similarity of their aspirations to those of any other ethnic group. Quietly passionate, imbued with a subtle understanding of how the personal and political intertwine: another fine effort from an always-intriguing writer.