Title: We Begin At the End by Chris Whitaker
Book Beginnings quote:
Walk stood at the edge of a feverish crowd, some he'd known since his birth, some since theirs.
There was much Walk wanted to ask about the last thirty years of his friend's life, but the scars on Vincent's wrists told him that time might well be worse than he ever could have imagined.
Summary: Set in a small town on the California coast author Chris Whitaker examines the ramifications of a deadly accident decades earlier when Vincent King was sent to prison for a hit-and run accident that killed Sissy Radley. Now 30-years later, Vincent is finally being released and his childhood friend Chief Walker, Walk for short, who happens to be the police chief of Cape Haven, hopes that the town and the family can finally begin to heal. But soon after Vincent's return home, Star Radley, Sissy's sister and one-time lover of Vincent, is shot and killed. Both Chief Walker and Duchess, Star's 13-year-old daughter and self-proclaimed outlaw, each launch investigations to uncover the truth. The novel is a murder mystery, a love story, and a coming-of-age tale with plenty of heartbreak and plot twists to keep the reader on the edge of their seat guessing right up until the end.
Review: I am a woman of two minds about We Begin At the End. First, I recognize that the plot has a lot going for it: two settings (California and Montana) which play prominently into the story line; sympathetic characters who are not easily pigeonholed; and a head-scratching who-dunnit. That said I just could not stop thinking about all the odd things that struck me as wrong about the story. The first, and maybe most obvious problem was an issue with California. In the very first paragraph a house is falling in the Pacific Ocean due to erosion, yet the rest of the story never mentions anything about the ocean, or the sand, or a beach, or the wind, or anything that would prominent in a coastal town. At one point Chief Walker mentions a family that moved "West." How can someone move west if they are already as west as you can be? Did they move into the ocean? Or to Hawaii? Even the name of the town, Cape Haven, struck me as wrong. I kept thinking of Cape Cod or someplace on the East Coast and wondered why that was. I finally looked it up and discovered my problem with the name -- Usually capes on the West Coast are called "points." Later I learned that Whitaker is from the U.K. so how would he know?
A few other issues grabbed me. In Montana, where the kids go to live after their Mother's murder, Duchess is allowed by an adult to walk in the swirling snow the mile up the driveway to the house in her party cloths. No way in hell would a Montanan adult let a kid walk that far in the snow not warmly dressed, especially since that adult was in a nice, warm car. And one more thing, Walk's mysterious illness, which kept him from being able to perform at peak levels, reminded me of the Bill Hodges in the third book of the Bill Hodges' series by Stephen King, but it wasn't handled as well. Sigh.
I could go on but I'll stop. Suffice it to say, I couldn't stop thinking of the problems with the story even as I was crying for the tragedy befalling the children in it. I don't ever remember feeling this way about a book before and I was sure I was alone in my thoughts until I read this review in the NYT. In it author Liz Moore takes issue with, among other things, the style of language that Whitaker chooses to use. She concludes with, "In the end, Whitaker’s prose — both within the context of his narration and within his characters’ forced-sounding dialogue — hampers what is otherwise a moving, propulsive story."
So there you have it. A review of a book with a great plot and a "propulsive story" but one that has problems which may nag at you as you read. If you have read the book, what are your thoughts about it? If not, have you ever read a book whose problems kept you from fully enjoying it? How did you cope? I hope to get a handle on my divided feelings before our book club meeting at the end of the month.
RHS Book Club, October 2021
I've had that happen a couple of times where I was divided on how I ultimately felt about a book. Usually, I have to sit with it for a while and just think about what I've read. Great review though!ReplyDelete
I haven't read this book, but the issues you mention would definitely irritate me and detract from the story. Fortunately I haven't read many books that are like that - but there have been a few.ReplyDelete
Yes. They became very distracting.Delete
I think I’d be irritated too, thanks for sharing your thoughtsReplyDelete
I occasionally experience this with books as well, where it feels like an author keeps getting in their own way. But also, if the author is British surely he should have looked up things like place names? Especially since the British can be super picky about place names as well xD I hope you have a lovely weekend!ReplyDelete
Juli @ A Universe in Words
The NYT article kept talking about the stilted language the character used, almost like the author was trying to replicate True Grit. Sometimes it works, other times it does not.Delete
Hmmm... This book is actually on my TBR. You have highlighted a few valid points. Will go through them again before I start reading this one!ReplyDelete
Have a good weekend!
So sorry! Didn't add my link.... Elza ReadsDelete
I hope my review doesn't keep you from reading the book.Delete
I don't mind suspending my beliefs somewhat for an otherwise good story, but if I reach my breaking point, all bets are off.ReplyDelete
Wow, what could have been a great story may have fallen into mediocre status! Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
I agree with you on all your criticisms except that I didn't find many of the characters sympathetic.ReplyDelete
I found several of the characters to be sympathetic especially Duchess and Walk. I even found compassion for the grandfather.Delete
Hmm, I hate when stories do that. Happy Friday!ReplyDelete
Sounds like the details of this one get in the way of a story that could be good.ReplyDelete
Good way of stating it. Exactly. The details got in the way of the story.Delete
Thanks for sharing, Anne. Have a great weekend!ReplyDelete
Lauren @ Always Me
Interesting snippets, especially that intriguing 56! Happy weekend!ReplyDelete