Monday, June 14, 2021

What Comes After, the Answer to my Plea

The search for an uplifting, beautiful read has finally come to an end thanks to librarian and book reviewer Gloria Drake who recommended an incredible debut novel by Joanne Tompkins called “What Comes After.” This book was exactly what I was looking for, especially after wallowing in Russell Banks’ harrowing novel of a self-absorbed documentary film maker who, in a bid to unburden himself of all his sins at the end of his life, turns the camera on himself. If you ever wondered if you could support MAID, medical aid in dying, his book, “Foregone,” would convince you.

Joanne Tompkins has created characters so real, so nuanced, and so complicated What Comes After: A Novelby the slings and arrows of living that they burrow into your heart and remain long after you’ve sighed over the final page. The catalyst for the story is a murder but the heart of the book is family, those we are born into and those we build for ourselves when our blood relatives may be physically or emotionally unavailable.

Tompkins is such a wise writer. Perhaps her intuitive take on human nature comes from her first career as a judicial officer and mediator for the courts. Her tender treatment of Evangeline, a feral, conniving, hard-shelled teenager, abandoned by her mother, living in a ratty trailer in the woods outside of a coastal Washington town, can only be informed by those she interacted with in the courts on any given day.

Not long after Isaac’s son Daniel, a senior in high school, star athlete, destined for greatness, disappears, and is later found brutally murdered, Isaac walks his property searching for Daniel’s dog Rufus and discovers Evangeline, dirty, cold, starving, a stray in need of a home. He takes her in for the night, not even realizing how badly he needs to fill the hole in his big old drafty home and his empty heart, but also not comprehending just how calculating Evangeline has been or that she may have a clue to Daniel’s death, and oh yes, that she is pregnant.

Isaac is a Quaker, as are many in the community, but his faith has failed him even as it has ingrained his psyche. He has perfected the ability to hide behind silence, a trait his wife faulted him with as she walked out the door years ago. As he and Evangeline dance around each other, each bound up in his carapace, readers get a primer on Quaker practice and theology as well as insight into the debilitating, maybe even insurmountable effects of years of loneliness and distrust.

And then there is the forgiveness we are all called to bestow. Living next door to Isaac and Evangeline is Lorrie whose losses mirror Isaac’s own. She too is mourning the death of a son, Jonah, once Daniel’s constant sidekick, then his murderer. Evangeline, yearning for a mother figure, opens to Lorrie’s kindness but Isaac’s anger is excruciating to witness when he even thinks of Lorrie and Evangline together.

Can these people, so beaten down by the act of surviving, ever find the grace to accept a future that may look quite different from what they expected yet may be filled with surprising rewards? We hope with ever fiber of our being that they will.



1 comment:

Best found deliverance testimonies said...

Tompkins takes you on a journey far darker than the forest setting and while the book has an air of secrecy, it is not a thriller. It’s more of an intense family drama where faith, trust, and healing are the poetry that bring it toge