“A fast-paced, entertaining summer read” (People), The Why of Things is a “keenly observed” and “richly drawn” (The New York Times) novel about a family fighting towards hope in the wake of a terrible tragedy.
Since the loss of her seventeen-year-old daughter less than a year ago, Joan Jacobs has struggled to keep her tight-knit family from coming apart. But Joan and Anders, her husband, are unable to snap back into the familiarity and warmth they so desperately need, both for themselves and for their surviving daughters, Eve and Eloise. The family flees to their summer home in search of peace and renewal, only to encounter an eerily similar tragedy when a pickup truck drives into the quarry in their backyard killing a young local named James Favazza.
As the Jacobs family learns more about the inexplicable events that preceded that fateful evening, each of them becomes increasingly tangled in the emotional threads of James’s story: fifteen-year-old Eve is determined to solve, on her own, the mystery of his death; Anders finds himself facing his own deepest fears; and seven-year-old Eloise unwittingly adopts James’s orphaned dog. For her part, Joan becomes increasingly fixated on James’s mother, a stranger whose sudden loss so closely mirrors her own.
With an urgent, beautiful intimacy that her fans have come to expect from this “bitingly intelligent writer” (The New York Times), Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop delivers here a powerful, buoyant novel that explores the complexities of family relationships and the small triumphs that can bring unexpected healing. The Why of Things is a wise, empathetic, and exquisitely heartfelt story about the strength of family bonds. It is an unforgettable and searing tour de force.
A pickup truck careens into a water-filled quarry, killing the young male driver, in the backyard of the Jacobs family's home on Cape Ann, Mass. The family is already reeling from the recent suicide of its eldest daughter, Sophie, when their second daughter, Eve, becomes obsessed with discovering whether the truck's driver was another suicide, a murder, or an accident. Eve's father, Anders, helps her follow clues while her mother, Joan, tries to connect with the dead man's mother. Winthrop (Fireworks) reveals little about Sophie's life or death, aside from that she parked her car on railroad tracks. Joan blames herself for the suicide, though it seems impossible that the home environment is at fault. Winthrop writes beautifully about family bonds made solid by respect, kindness, integrity, and commitment, and it feels petty to disrespect their dignity by wishing they would reveal even a little bit more about Sophie's life. However, she crafts the family too precisely and ties their narrative threads too tightly. Towards the end, Winthrop doses each of her characters with a palliative, but insists that they, and the reader, must accept that sometimes you have to live without answers. It's an understandable sentiment, but an unsatisfying conclusion. Amanda Urban, ICM.