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[592] The Why of Things – Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop


” All that Sophie said in the note she left behind was that she loved them, and that she was sorry. But sorry isn’t good enough for Eve; sorry isn’t why. ” (Ch.3, p.111-112)

Two inexplicable tragedies have struck the Jacobs in less than a year. It has been nine months since Joan Jacobs’s 17-year-old daughter, Sophie, took her life by driving onto the railroad tracks in front an oncoming train. When The Why of Things opens, the family, held together by Joan, who feels Sophie’s absence “has slowly woven itself into the fabric of reality,’ returns to its summer house on Cape Ann. But somewhat oddly, Joan has not realized death would knock on the door once again—and that the charm of the historical house would issue fresh reminders of their loss. Joan, her husband Anders, their two daughters, Eve and Eloise realize at the wake of this new tragedy, they realize they have yet to achieve closure of their loved one.

When, a moment later, Joan glances over at Anders again, he has closed his eyes. She studies his profile, the shadows of his cheekbones, the just of his Adam’s apple, and even though he is right there beside her, at the same time she feels as if he is very far away, buried somewhere deep within himself; there is a giant space between them. (Ch.2, p.64)

Almost instantly upon their arrival at Cape Ann, 15-year-old Eve finds fresh tire marks that lead to the quarry, now a swimming hole on their property. At the urge of their daughter, Joan and Anders report the strange evidence to the police, which sent divers to recover a vehicle and raise the body of James Favazza from the water.

As Joan once again becomes troubled by death,ruminating over her negligence that indirectly led to Sophie’s suicide, Eve is convinced that James Favazza’s passing is no more accidental than her sister’s. She’s embarks on an investigation herself.

Or the memory of her parents’ embrace when her father finally got home late Wednesday night, and how both of them seemed to hold each other up while at the same time weighing each other down, and how the rain visible through the open door . . . (Ch.5, p.152)

So The Why of Things meanders and trickles. The tragic deaths of two unrelated young people never intertwine, although Withrop’s narratives suggests otherwise. I get the sense that there is more than what the Jacobs know; but the heightening sense of suspense is false alarm. Chances for convergence abound as the narrative brings the two families together. Eloise, the youngest of the Jacobs daughters, becomes attached to a stray dog that once belonged to James. Joan has multiple encounters with Elizabeth Favazza and discreetly attends the young man’s funeral. The all tiptoe around one another, their griefs asserts in many forms. The Why of Things doesn’t answer what it asks, but poses more as a reflection of loss, grief, guilt, and resilience. This is a novel about continuance, full of mundane moments following a tremendous loss that Withrop renders very well. A worthwhile read.

320 pp. Simon & Schuster. Hardcover. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


2 Responses

  1. This sounds quite good to me, actually. I appreciate the bit of mysterious relation. Thank you for your review.

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