Tuesday, March 3, 2015


My two cents on David Joy's fiction debut, Where All Light Tends To Go:

"There was never a moment in my life when I bought into the idea of light at the end of the tunnel." Jacob McNeely feels like he's living a fated existence. Son of the infamous Charlie McNeely, the hardest of hardasses who controls the local meth trade with fear and violence, and Laura, who sadly became one of Charlie's customers and was long ago relegated by her husband to a shack in the woods, Jacob sees no way to escape his genetics or his hometown in the Appalachian country of North Carolina.

The only good in Jacob's life is his childhood friend, first love, and former girlfriend, Maggie, a smart girl hell bent on getting out and heading off to college. Wanting nothing more than for Maggie to do just that, Jacob unceremoniously breaks up with Maggie two years before graduation, feeling he's holding her back and has no way to break free to go with her.

Resigned to his fate, Jacob begins working for the father he despises and is given a test to prove he's a man and not the "pussy" Charlie constantly berates him for being. Robbie Douglas, one of Charlie's employees, has screwed up, supposedly providing certain information about Charlie's business endeavors to the cops. So Jacob is sent into a deep-woods cabin with the Cabe brothers to "take care of" Robbie.  As Charlie says, "Dead men tell no tales, Jacob. It's the ones left to living are the ones who write the history."

When things go wrong (and you had to know they were going to, right?), Jacob begins to reassess his life and alternatives, going so far as to reconnect with Maggie and think about planning a future. As the fallout from Robbie spirals further and further out of control, it touches Jacob's life in ways he never expected and deepens his simmering hatred of his father. The question is whether Jacob will find a way out with Maggie or be sucked straight to the drain of a future filled with drugs and violence.

Where All Light Tends To Go is David Joy's debut novel (he's written award-winning non-fiction) and I was impressed by Joy's writing, which was quite beautiful and lyrical in parts, setting off some of the grit and grim. For example:

Gerald folded the tarp up as if it was something worth keeping, and I stared down at the place where the first man I'd ever seen die fit around the boulder like tongue and groove.

Joy also turns some beautiful phrases, with the ability to describe an object or emotion fully in just a line or two. To wit:

The old pine plank cabin Mama lived in had always sat at an angle just right enough to hold off folding in a strong wind.


She started to open her mouth again, but Daddy duct-taped her lips closed with nothing more than a glance.

I loved Joy's language, as well as the dark and compelling nature of the story, but for some reason I couldn't get my head wrapped around Jacob. He's to be found somewhere between the failure his father tells him he is and the strong young man who can do anything that Maggie believes him to be, but I couldn't put my finger on him long enough to figure out where I stood on that spectrum. This was probably my failing, and may have something to do with the fact that Jacob himself is unsure who he is, but it held me a bit distant from the story, particularly at one pivotal point in Jacob's path.

Overall I found Where All Light Tends To Go to be an impressive debut and I'll keep my eye on David Joy in the future. He writes the down and dirty, atmospheric dark stuff that I like, and I'm sure he's only going to turn up the gas as he goes. If you like the works of Frank Bill, Matthew McBride and the like, this is probably right in your wheelhouse.

As an aside (because we all know I'm a cover nerd), this cover is all kinds of beautiful. It's the kind of cover that would get me to pick up a book and buy it without even knowing what's inside. Turns out, it also serves the story well. Superb stuff.


Amanda said...

I picked this up and gave it to my sister without looking too closely. Now I'm regretting that! I am going to have to steal it back when she's done.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

If either of you read it, I'd love to know your thoughts. I had my issues with it, but after stewing for awhile I decided my admiration of the writing overcame my character issues. And I love the dark, so it had a leg up from the start.

Amanda said...

Sometimes dark is just what you need!

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

Absolutely. I just sometimes wonder/worry about how often I need it. :)

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

If you read it, I'd love to talk to you about it, see if my feelings/reactions are different or similar to yours. Many people loved this more than I did, and I love talking about differing viewpoints!

Shannon @ River City Reading said...

My feelings were wavering through most of this, and I think you nailed it with not being able to nail down Jacob, but it really came together for me in the end...which I just wasn't expecting for some reason. It gutted me! You would think, after reading enough in this vein, I would be used it but that totally got me.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

The end helped me a bit as well, but there was one scene with his father where he lost me and I'm not sure I fully recovered a connection with the plot after that. And yes, you would think we would be used to endings such as this, but I think he pulled off something of a surprise in this one, which I appreciated. It wasn't trite.

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


  © Blogger templates Newspaper by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP