By Karen Osborn

(Vandalia Press, $16.99, 151 pages)

Who is this author?

Karen Osborn has written four novels: “Patchwork” (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), “Between Earth and Sky,”  “The River Road” and her latest, “Centerville.”  Osborn teaches fiction writing at Mt. Holyoke College and Fairfield University and lives in Amherst, Mass. When she was growing up in a Midwestern small town, a bombing and fire took place, which she witnessed.

Here is what Osborn says about her writing:

“I grew up on Grand Island, surrounded by woods along the banks of the Niagara River. Places filled with the raw power of nature are one of the main inspirations in my writing. Later, I lived in the Midwest and then the Northeast. I graduated from Hollins College in the Blue Ridge Mountains and attended graduate school in the Ozarks of Arkansas. I seek out places of beauty that are untouched, but I’m drawn in my novels to understand towns, families, marriages, and lovers.”

What is this book about?

It’s about a small town in the days of Vietnam War and Civil Rights protests that has its tranquility ended when an emotionally disturbed man bent on personal revenge sets off a bomb that kills innocent people, leaving the town shocked and horrified. No, it’s not exactly the story of Sandy Hook, but you can see the parallels. When George Fowler bombs the drugstore on Main Street in a twisted plan to get even with his estranged wife, who works there, she and bystanders are killed. The tragedy strongly impacts four citizens: the pastor who married the warring couple; his daughter, who barely escaped the blast; the widowed wife of a victim; and a cop who was on the scene. It is through them that Osborn tells this story of what happens when disaster strikes out of nowhere and people must struggle to make sense of it and go on.

Why you’ll like it:

This is a straightforwardly told tale that gets deeply into what makes people tick and how they relate to unforeseen calamity. In our times, when mass murders are becoming almost – and achingly – routine, this book offers insights into how people behave when called upon to deal with incomprehensible evil. Reviewers are praising Osborn for her vividly descriptive writing and her deep understanding of why people do such awful things, and how the survivors pick up the pieces. This book may find a special  audience among those trying to deal with their emotions following the Sandy Hook massacre.

What others are saying:

“As with “In Cold Blood” or “The Sweet Heareafter,” Karen Osborn’s beautifully written “Centerville” uses a single, horrific,  small-town act of violence to dissect the values and morals of an entire culture—a culture that is at once violent and brutal, materialistic and superficial, yet capable of moments of heroism, compassion, and redemption. When a novel seems as if its subject isn’t past at all but rather pulled right from America’s latest cycle of mass murder and senseless carnage, and when that  novel does it with Osborn’s brilliant prose and deep insight into the dark alleys of our twisted nature, then we can rejoice that perhaps there’s still a chance, albeit a small one, for the human race,” says Connecticut author Michael White.

Publishers Weekly says: “Osborn’s powerful novel, set during the dog days of summer in a small Midwestern town in 1967, begins with a bang when a man bombs the drugstore employing his estranged wife. The tragedy devastates a community just beginning to feel the repercussions of the escalating Vietnam War and the growing civil rights movement, and Osborn focuses on four individuals to map the intersections of local drama and a world in upheaval…. Osborn … employing a restrained ruthlessness, maintains the tension throughout, and appropriately refuses easy outs for a satisfying conclusion.”

Says Library Journal: “Osborn … opens her novel in a small, quaint, Jan Karon-style town in 1967, then has a vengeful ex-husband set off a bomb in the drugstore where his former wife works. Centerville is quickly transformed into a devastated community of residents trying to understand how this could have happened and figure out how to put their lives back together. …VERDICT:  Lovers of realistic fiction will be pulled into this tiny town to experience its loss and confusion along with its residents. Osborn portrays the emotions surrounding this destructive event in a heartfelt and vivid style, while leaving room for the hope of regrowth and recovery.”


“It’s the summer of 1967; the news is awash with race riots and the escalating war in Vietnam. In the aftermath of a brutal and premeditated act of violence, the residents of a somnolent American town find themselves in a new world full of menace and fear. Karen Osborn’s deeply affecting novel “Centerville” keeps the incomprehensibility of evil always in focus, as her characters – young, old, brave, cowardly, driven by doubt, and committed to faith – struggle to find a way back to the innocence they once took for granted. In this subtle, beautifully written novel, the reader can almost hear the gates of paradise slamming closed on the American dream,” says author Valerie Martin.

When is it available?

“Centerville” is in the new books section of the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Dwight branch.

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