Saturday, May 8, 2021

What Comes After by Joanne Tompkins

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 432 pages
Published: April 2021

When I finished reading What comes After, a debut novel by Joanne Tompkins, all I had the emotional energy to offer was: Lovely writing! And I promise, that statement is accurate. Tompkins definitely has a way with words, but the story she crafted was so emotionally raw yet beautifully done, that's the only two words I could put together at the time. This book is not for the faint of heart. Upon opening in the Pacific Northwest, we learn that two childhood friends are dead - one killed the other, then himself. The town is grieving but specifically the parents of the boys left behind. Enter Evangeline, who knew the boys shortly before their deaths. Young and in a bit of a predicament herself, she interjects herself into the life of Isaac, who is the father of the murdered son. Then Isaac reaches out to Lorrie, the mother of the murdering son. From there, the story takes the reader on an arresting journey of loss, grief, but also, hope. 

This is not a book to be rushed through. At 400+ pages, it's a hefty read in both quantity and quality. I read this book over the course of a week and was simply mesmerized by the way the author was able to so vividly capture not only visual elements of the landscape setting but also the emotional ones that come with heavy topics such as death and (physical and sexual) abuse. While the topic is dark, the book is whole and offers the reader light and hope in the end. This book made me feel similar to Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

My only criticisms of this book, hence the rating shy of 5 stars, is the inclusion of the Quaker religion. I listened to an interview with Tomkins on @NYTBooks Instagram account, and she noted that she is not a Quaker, so I am not sure why she felt compelled to include so much of it in the book. Additionally, she mentioned that Jonah's character was calling out to her to have a voice in the novel. While the chapters told from his perspective help fill in the gaps of the mysterious elements of the book, it also broke the flow of my reading. I'd also love to know if there was any intention by ascribing religious names to so many of the male characters. 

Recommendation: I'd highly recommend this book when you have time to read and also put the book down for a bit so you can ponder before picking it up again. It's an equally cerebral and rewarding read.

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.


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