Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review - Where Things Come Back

John Corey Whaley
The small town of Lily, Arkansas is a place of never-ending ennui. It's the typical sort of small town, where every teenager dreams of getting out but most only end up coming back to their hometown and living out their days in a nowhere sort of place, as a nobody sort of person. But then a thought-to-be-extinct species of woodpecker (the Lazarus Woodpecker) is found in Lily and suddenly the town has hope, as well as an influx of attention from scholars and bird watchers.

Cullen Witter thinks the town is being scammed, preyed upon by a fame-hungry scientist. But when his younger brother, the incredible Gabriel Witter, goes missing, Cullen and his best friend Lucas Cader have bigger worries than some maybe-living bird. However the mystery of his brother serves as fuel for his anger against the Lazarus woodpecker and the way Lily seems to care about the bird so much more than it cares about his missing brother.

This is definitely a more literary novel and as such the plot is a bit difficult to sum up. Yes, there's a Lazarus woodpecker and a missing brother, but there's also a wonderful best friend (Lucas Cader), a couple of girls, and, interspersed with Cullen's story, a third-person narrative that starts with a Christian missionary and seems completely out of place for most of the novel. Like many literary novels, this one is setting- and character-heavy; Cullen, Gabriel, and Lucas are such original and wonderful characters while the town of Lily, Arkansas has a very true-to-life feeling and is a character in itself. The family dynamics at play -- Cullen and Gabriel's especially, but also Lucas' -- add depth to the novel. This is the type of book you really have to read in order to understand; there's a lot of beauty here, as well as sadness and grit and hard reality. The book opens with the death of Cullen and Gabriel's drug-addicted cousin, setting the stage for a drama that plays out less melodramatically than you'd expect with such soap-opera-ish events as drug-induced deaths and younger brothers disappearing.

For those who value strong settings or like beautiful, literary novels, I definitely recommend this one. In spite of so many of the events being downright depressing, Where Things Come Back is a book that manages to be nicely enjoyable in a very comfortable way, and I love that. 

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