I’m having a very unique problem lately. This is the second book that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that I can’t really recommend to anyone for fear that they’ll hate it. So, once again, take my rating and this review with a grain of salt. You’ll likely fucking hate this book.
Where You Once Belonged is a book that I would label a tragedy, in the vein of such depressing fair as Of Mice and Men and The Green Mile. Bad shit happens in this book, and the author doesn’t care about your need for retribution or a happy ending. Not all books need to see our characters riding off into the sunset. But you should also know that this book is terrifically short. It does not overstay its welcome, and when the final kick to the nuts is revealed, I didn’t find myself saying, “I wasted all my time reading this for that?” Because, while the ending is fitting, given the previous 170 pages, the last four pages are more open-ended than Jada Fire. But, in my opinion, that’s okay, because this book isn’t a time sink.
(To the dudes out there Googling Jada Fire, you’re welcome. Ladies who dig ladies, you are also welcome.)
The packaging of this book is misleading. This is not about what happens when a town hero returns after disappearing. It is about what happened before and directly after he disappears. Only the first and last chapters are in the present. Everything else is first-person omniscient (bold move by the author, as I’ve only read three books [this is the fourth] that use this crazy style of narration) and 90% of that is flashbacks. First-person omniscient is uber strange. This is a narrative style that is told as if you’re listening to someone recollect true events. But what’s odd about it is that the narrator knows what everyone is doing, even though they were not there to witness it: he knows their motivations, their actions, their truest, deepest feelings. It could be said that, since our main character Pat Arbuckle, is a journalist, he could have interviewed everyone, but given the knowledge he might have acquired, I don’t think this is a good explanation. There are things in here I doubt the people in this town would have admitted to their closest, most-trusted loved one, let alone a newsman.
Which brings me to why you might hate this book. It opens in such a way as to give you certain promises that it never delivers on. You expect the book to be about what happens in this town after Jack Burdette returns, but it’s not about that. Not in the least. If you go into this expecting to get answers to those questions, you will be sorely upset.
I, however, love a dour and dire piece of writing, if I’m in the mood for it. And that’s exactly what this books is. It is fucking harsh. Bring Kleenex.
In summation: Where You Once Belonged is an arresting, affecting, powerful, and short novel. Recommended for fans of Hemingway, Steinbeck, and O’Connor.
Final Judgment: A thug-punch to the feels.