Published by Simon & Schuster on June 11, 2013
Read synopsis on Goodreads
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Before I jump into this review of The Why of Things by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop, I want to point out that while it’s a great story, it’s not a good galley to request. I say this because the NetGalley copy is a PDF file that such tiny print that it was really hard to read and I almost put it down in the first few chapters because I was tired of squinting. I may have to start paying more attention to the file types that I am requesting in the future!
Despite my husband’s observations that I should put on my glasses and me pointing out that wasn’t the problem, I put on my patience pants and kept on reading. Now that my eyesight is going back to normal, I can happily report that this is a great book. Set in Cape Ann, MA, the story opens with a tragedy that takes place on their summer property, reopening wounds that haven’t yet healed from the oldest daughter’s fairly recent suicide. As is common in real life, each family member is dealing with the tragedies in their own way and together, they feel isolated. The bulk of the story focuses on Eve, who is a precocious and curious 17 year old trying to avoid “dead sister pity” while on a mission to find answers to the tragedy in Jacobs’ backyard. Although their reactions are different, the common thread between all of the characters is their journey to learn the why of things.
I liked this book because I am originally from Massachusetts, so I could identify with the over-abundance of CVS stores and I’ve spent summer days at Canobie Lake Park. Oh, and I know how to pronounce Gloucester! The writing, while not quite lyrical, had a singsong quality to it that made it easy to ride the ups and downs of characters’ emotions. I have a feeling that the author put a lot of personal grief into this novel, for her descriptions of moving forward after the death of a loved one were both vivid and practical. At one point, she offhandedly mentions that Mr. Jacobs had a benign lung tumor as a young adult, and it is such a specific and random detail that I’m left wondering who in her family had a tumor removed.
The Why of Things is a book that almost everyone can relate to, even if they have never been touched the suicide of a loved one (which I haven’t). But everyone has, or can imagine, the kind of grief that is associated with and the requirement of life to move forward with daily chores like eating and showering. This book jumps into the raw parts of grief but without being a sob story, and I highly recommend it.