Summary and book reviews of What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins

What Comes After

by JoAnne Tompkins

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Jane McCormack
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About this Book

Book Summary

After the shocking death of two teenage boys tears apart a community in the Pacific Northwest, a mysterious pregnant girl emerges out of the woods and into the lives of those same boys' families - a moving and hopeful novel about forgiveness and human connection.

In misty, coastal Washington State, Isaac lives alone with his dog, grieving the recent death of his teenage son, Daniel. Next door, Lorrie, a working single mother, struggles with a heinous act committed by her own teenage son. Separated by only a silvery stretch of trees, the two parents are emotionally stranded, isolated by their great losses—until an unfamiliar sixteen-year-old girl shows up, bridges the gap, and changes everything.

Evangeline's arrival at first feels like a blessing, but she is also clearly hiding something. When Isaac, who has retreated into his Quaker faith, isn't equipped to handle her alone, Lorrie forges her own relationship with the girl. Soon all three characters are forced to examine what really happened in their overlapping pasts, and what it all possibly means for a shared future.

With a propulsive mystery at its core, What Comes After offers an unforgettable story of loss and anger, but also of kindness and hope, courage and forgiveness. It is a deeply moving account of strangers and friends not only helping each other forward after tragedy, but inspiring a new kind of family.

2

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-...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Although Tompkins' characters are believable and worthy of investment in themselves, it is her deft handling of trauma, grief and loss that truly resonates with the reader. Her keen ability to capture what it means to be vulnerable and what it feels like to be skinned by loss is laudable. At times, the plot's sequence of events seems too neatly coincidental; however, the portrayal of overriding hope for the characters' redemption and salvation makes this a forgivable flaw...continued

Full Review Members Only (554 words).

(Reviewed by Jane McCormack).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post
If you enjoyed The Searcher by Tana French, read What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins.… a mystery — and a gritty meditation on loss and redemption, drenched in stillness and grief.

O, the Oprah Magazine
Atmospheric, propulsive... a grieving community grapples with two slain teenaged boys and the young pregnant girl who may hold the key to the their tragic fates. An American Tana French, Tompkins is a writer to watch.

Kirkus Reviews
Like Anne Tyler and Marilynne Robinson, who explore similar territories of the heart, Tompkins sensitively portrays her characters' pain, isolation, and hard path to redemption. A graceful debut.

Publishers Weekly
Tompkins's strong point is in deepening the emotional complexities of each character's actions with well-placed backstory...While anger, loss, and grief dominate the characters' lives, forgiveness and connection ease the pain. At its best, this illuminates the limits of faith when facing the darker corners of human behavior.

Booklist (starred review)
Deftly handled…readers coming to know [the characters] almost better than they know themselves. Expect some tears before the story ends, but also admire the art that the author brings to this exceptional literary thriller.

Author Blurb Chloe Benjamin, New York Times- bestselling author of The Immortalists
What Comes After is a tender, wise debut, both grave and hopeful. In telling the story of the violent act that rocks a small community—and what emerges from the ashes—JoAnne Tompkins explores responsibility and forgiveness, connection and loss, the families we're born into and the ones we create. What Comes After asks whether we are inevitably shaped by the wounds we inherit—and the ones we give ourselves—or whether transformation, and redemption, are possible.

Author Blurb Cara Wall, author of The Dearly Beloved
Though What Comes After begins with the quick jaggedness of sorrow, it soon becomes an intricate journey across the soft, tender landscape of solace. It offers faith without dogma, love without melodrama, and healing that leaves well-earned scars. I found it a beautifully satisfying portrait of people who are terribly wrong about themselves, who discover astonishing relief when they accept their heartbreaking truths.

Author Blurb Whitney Otto, New York Times-bestselling author of How To Make an American Quilt
A moving, life-affirming page-turner. JoAnne Tompkins has a deep appreciation for the power of human connection and the magic that can happen when people reach across biological relationships to create the makeshift family or community that they need. This novel is a reminder that family goes beyond blood, held in love, and we are not alone.

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Beyond the Book

The Quaker Clearness Committee

Throughout What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins, Isaac Balch meditates on how his Quaker religion might help him come to terms with the murder of his son, Daniel. Paramount in Quakerism is the belief that a person's relationship with God is an independent matter. In keeping with this, much of the community's spiritual work is carried out in a manner that focuses on the individual practitioner. For example, Quakers gather in a meeting house to worship through communal silence and occasional voluntary speaking, rather than holding a service with a presiding officiant. Another practice that emphasizes the importance of the individual is that of the clearness committee, a group that helps a person with processing around a life choice or event. ...

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