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This story unfolds at a small town pace, where the consequences of a single horrific action, on a single night, spreads forward through time and across generations like the butterfly affect leading to cyclones. It is sad, tragic and ultimately an uplifting tale of fear, sorrow and unexpected redemption.
If you ever need a reason to know why no one should take justice into their own hands this is it.
Chief Walker’s best friend has just got out of prison after serving two decades for the hit and run killing of his girlfriend Star’s little sister. The fallout from that tragedy is immense for the group of friends and it spreads into the next generation. The book focusses on Star’s two children, particularly her eldest Duchess who looks after her little brother and tries to manage as their mum resorts to drugs and alcohol to drown her pain. Chief Walker sees the pain they’re in, but seems unable to help other than by covering up Duchess’s self-destructive tendencies. It’s a theme for all the adults in this book, they stand by and watch or even make things worse and it’s tempting to just tell them all to pull it together.
The adults are frustrating, but the kids are heartbreaking as poor Duchess feels she has to shoulder all the responsibility of protecting her younger brother Robin, trying to get a good life for him while feeling that she may already be beyond repair herself.
Make sure you’re feeling emotionally stable before you pick this one up, there is no feel good factor here.
I would prefer to give 4.5* but there is not such a category. I am with so many others reviewers who have found this a wonderful book. I also agree that it is a slow starter, to the extent that I toyed with abandoning it and am so, so glad I did not. It repaid the full read, in buckets. It brought tears to my eyes at the end, for the redemptive quality of the ending, for the losses, the sadnesses and the while, complex account of the characters in a small American town. Others have detailed the plot well, so it needs no repeat from me, other than to say it stands as one of my favourites of the last year and in the pandemic, I have read a good number! I can see where the comparisons with James Lee Burke arise, one of my favourite American crime writers until of very late, when a strange, almost supernatural tone came into play. The setting and landscape was beautifully done, especially from an English author. The building of the characters was so important to the narrative and skilfully executed. I was surprised at reviewers who found this irritating but each to their own and different viewpoints are good to make one think about one’s own responses. There were several times in the course of the book that I did begin to wonder if I could or wanted to stay with the utter misery that several of the main characters experienced but by then, I wanted to know what happened. Because of this, I think it lies as a darker rather than lighter novel, but the key was in hooking me in. I really did want to know what transpired. The last few chapters contained multiple surprises, neither altogether happy ever afters nor outright gloom, and I think a possible criticism could be that too many ends were neatly tied off but as I read, I ignored that, being wholly caught up in the moment. That is, I contend, exactly what a book should do. I am now torn about reading this author’s earlier works: will they be as good or will they fall short? I always put at least one book between two by the same author, so I may try CW’s earlier two at a later stage. Not yet, My head is still full of Duchess Day Radley. So glad I persevered.
As an adult, I don't think I have cared about a protagonist as much as I cared about Duchess. And that's why I hated reading about her tormented live, I wanted it to stop. I read as quickly as I could.
Although a familiar story ( alcoholic mum, young brother and a girl who tries her best to keep the family toghether), right from when Star is visited in hospital by Duchess, did it grip me. When she is taken home from the hospital by Walk, we learn her cupboards are empty of food, yet within walking distance multi million dollar second homes are lining the seafront. It reminded me about the enormous gap between the haves and have nots, in a first world country.
This not a thriller, it's a crime drama. The question is not 'Will the detective save the day' but 'Will Duchess find happiness.' I liked the fact that none of the killings were graphic, we only learn of each aftermath. And I say killings because none tunred out to be planned murders. In fact, the only pre-meditated crimes were committed by Duchess and other women.
I wanted to give it five stars. To me, Robin didn't sound like a five/six year old. Also, there is an enormous plothole, which makes the last three quarters redundant. Furthermore, at times the writing is very laboured, often for the sake of being laboured. Endless similes do start to grate. And although the rebellious girl cuts up her dress, she still goes to church without much protestation. Clearly aimed at the American market.
The ending was slow, roadtrips are usually just page fillers and the same can be said about the one Duchess makes. The very ending was what I hoped for but not what it should have been. Too sentimental, and Duchess would not have walked out of her brother's life, as he was the only one she lived for.
But the first task of a novel is to evoke emotion, and to me it did by the bucket load, hence the four stars. If Cormac McCarthy had written Sans Famille, this book would be it.
This was highly recommended so I wanted to give 'We Begin At The End' a go. I did find it a very slow start and nearly parked it but I'm glad I persevered.
The characters were given life and full stories and I really came to care about Duchess and her brother Robin, Walk and Vincent. It was such a sad story that really developed and the writer didn't skimp on the raw truth of the lives that these children lived, watching their mother destroy herself for something they could never fully understand.
Too many deaths, too much sadness and children seeing things that they couldn't be protected from.
This really was worth carrying on with and I'm glad I read it.
Definitely recommend and I will happily be looking out for more by Chris Whitaker.
4 stars from me but settle in, it's a longer than average read for me but worth it.