Monday, September 10, 2012

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

First published in 2011, in Australia Sep 2012

Hmmm. Even without reading this book, I loved it. I saw it as a proof in my bookstore and grabbed it, flicked through a few really fantastic passages, and then took it home. As I read more and more, it lost a little of its appeal. All the little quirks that I started off enjoying began to annoy me, a tiny bit. It still held my interest. I still think it is a clever, mostly well-written and certainly unique book, but Where Things Come Back did lose me, just a little.

It was clever how Whaley tied the two main stories together, and all the other povs that are interspersed throughout. It made me want to keep reading, to see how they would come together, and also to see what he would do with all these non-linear timelines. He pulls it off. Stylistically, it is also clever to tie everything back to this idea of a small town going crazy for the appearance of the Lazarus woodpecker – to see how hope is a lovely thing, but it can also turn people a little crazy. The woodpecker is the symbolic heart of Where Things Come Back, and (from a writer’s perspective) I enjoy this kind of neat, simple, stylistic technique.

I thought this book was a case of the secondary, peripheral characters being the more interesting. I couldn’t warm to any of the main narrators. In fact, I think this is my main problem with the book. I didn’t really like anyone. And I don’t think it’s a reflection of their actual personalities, but the way they are written about – with a certain cynical, cold-hearted view. This book has warmth but it isn’t found in the characters, and that prevents me from caring. What I did enjoy was the way Whaley built up some characters, like Lucas and John Barling, so we formed an idea of them. And then he dropped a subtle bombshell which revealed all their hidden parts and motivations. The best example was when Cullen talks to John on the swing. Love moments like these.

I think the writing did show signs of this being a debut novel. It is very Dawson’s Creek. Full of emotion but in that cynical, referential way, that can be hip but is really, I feel, sometimes just disguised indulgence. It makes me smile the way people are always referred to by their full name. At the start I didn’t mind Cullen referring to himself in the third person but it does wear a little thin.

As for Cullen and his main crew – well they are so unobtrusively hip that it’s all pretty harmless. I can understand why some will love his cynical self. I felt all a bit blasé about it all. And I’m still not sure if the ending is real or not.

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