Excerpt from What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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What Comes After

by JoAnne Tompkins

What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins X
What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2021, 432 pages

    Apr 2022, 432 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jane McCormack
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Newly sixteen and trying to get a handle on her finances, Evangeline McKensey spread the last of her money--a twenty, three ones, and six oxycodones, which she counted as fives--on the scarred wooden table. The candle she'd lit started to gutter. She coaxed the wick with a pocket knife, her breath seized till it flared brighter. If it died, there would be nothing but darkness in the abandoned single-wide.

She stopped, snatched up a wastebasket and retched, holding back her tangle of red hair as best she could. No point in racing to the toilet. The water had been cut days ago. She swiped an arm across her mouth, smearing the foul stuff on her new denim jacket, the one that fate had left for her on a park bench last week. She'd hoped to avoid the puking. Some women did. It made the place smell horrible.

In the morning, she'd empty the wastebasket, fill it from a spigot on a neighboring horse pasture. Too rough out there now. The fall wind was churning the firs into a fury, sending high-pitched vibrations across the home's aluminum sides.

Evangeline pulled a can of chili from her duct-taped backpack. She'd slipped it from a shelf earlier in the day, but the picture of the greasy red beans and bits of ground meat now caused a rising in her throat, and she shoved it away. She could have pocketed a pregnancy test while she was at it. But why? Her boobs had made it obvious weeks ago, irritated at everything, even soft cotton bras and tees. She knew what she knew and marveled at anyone who needed a plus or minus on a plastic stick to fill them in on what their body was up to. Now, if somebody came up with a device to tell her the precise day this whole thing started, that would be worthwhile. That would answer a question that had been plaguing her.

She shoved aside the latest eviction notice ripped from the door. This one mentioned the coming appearance of the sheriff. Which figured. The pattern of her life had been set: horrors followed by small reprieves, glimmers of possibility, then wham, everything back to shit.

A few months back, she couldn't have imagined any of this. She had walked home from town on a warm July evening, the air clear and sweet, the sky glowing silver, thinking how her mom might let her enroll at the high school in the fall despite the likely presence of the devil. But when she entered the clearing and their rented trailer came into view, it radiated a stillness that stopped her breath.

She pushed the door. "Mom?" The cabinets hung open, only a jar of peanut butter and a couple cans of tuna left. A scrawled note waited on the table: I'm praying Jesus forgives you. She tore open an envelope next to the note. Two hundred dollars and her grandmother's jeweled brooch fell out. Evangeline slid to the floor, whimpering. "Please, Mama. You don't mean it." But her mother did mean it. Her mother had promised this day. Many times she had promised. And now she had done it, washed her hands of her daughter and slipped clean away.

Evangeline cried for days, praying to Jesus, afraid to leave for even a second in case her mother returned. But, as usual, the prayers didn't work, produced neither parent nor food on the shelves. She guessed her mother was using again. Years of sobriety down the drain. "My stalker boyfriend," her mom had called heroin. "A real son of a bitch."

As the weeks passed, Evangeline prayed less and less, until one day she realized she was done. She'd probably burned the Jesus bridge with the drinking and stealing and messing around with her mother's ex-boyfriend. Just as well. He'd never been that reliable. And the way she saw it, you could invite someone into your heart, but if they refused to come, you had to move on. You had to save yourself however you could.

It was early October now, winter lurking at the edges of gusting winds, in the damp gray that hung over the town. She'd survived three months alone in this dismal place. The only relief had been the two boys who'd appeared in September, a brief island of company--both tender and ugly--in the middle of all that loneliness. But within days the boys had disappeared. She'd only seen them again on the front page of the newspaper.

Excerpted from What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins. Copyright © 2021 by JoAnne Tompkins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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