Where Things Come Back
John Corey Whaley
Where Things Come Back is the story of a seventeen year-old and how he and his community deal with the disappearance of his fifteen year-old brother. At the same time, a supposedly extinct woodpecker is sighted near the small Arkansas town of Lily where the story takes place, which essentially overshadows the disappearance of Cullen's brother, Gabriel. Concurrently, Whaley tells the seemingly unrelated story of misguided religious zealot/missionary, Benton Sage, his loss of faith and ultimate suicide and its domino effect on his college roommate, Cabot Searcy, which ultimately ties into Gabriel's disappearance.
The story is told from multiple POV - first person for Cullen, moments of second person when he dissociates himself from the pain of his brother's loss and explains what he feels as an observer that nonetheless pulls the reader in as the "you", as well as omniscient narrator for the sections about Benton, Cabot and ultimately Gabriel. They are masterfully woven together and well executed.
At the beginning of the story, I often found myself wondering why Cullen talked, contemplated, expressed very rarely how he felt about Gabriel's disappearance. He seemed more interested in girls. I suspect, however, this is one of those gender differences, i.e. for women, it's about our emotions. For men, it's not, not so overtly. Cullen's emotions come out in backhanded ways, e.g. the vignettes when he observes himself. Suddenly, the reader gets insight into his darkest feelings, the ones he keeps bottled up. As time passes and Gabriel is gone longer and longer, those dark emotions come to the fore more and more and invade Cullen's day-to-day life in first person. Thus, the argument could be made that, in fact, the character's emotional development is incredibly well done, just from a guy's point of view. Women take note!
While this is a complex interweaving of multiple stories, Whaley pulls it all together in the end. He ties all of the loose ends neatly together in one, intricate, interrelated knot. The ending itself is superb - a Lois Lowry's The Giver leaves-you-wondering sort of conclusion. It makes the reader stand back and think, ultimately questioning whether she is a glass half-empty or half-full sort of person? An idealist or a realist? The effect is heart-breakingly sublime. This is an ending worth reading to get to. Where Things Come Back is a book worth taking time to explore both as a story and as a writer. There are slights of craft all over the place worth unearthing and examining.
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