The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina, is home to people of all kinds, but the world that Jacob McNeely lives in is crueler than most. His father runs a methodically organized meth ring, with local authorities on the dime to turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school and cut himself off from his peers, Jacob has been working for this father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually. The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, and a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things than their hardscrabble town. Jacob has always been resigned to play the cards that were dealt him, but when a fatal mistake changes everything, he’s faced with a choice: stay and appease his father, or leave the mountains with the girl he loves. In a place where blood is thicker than water and hope takes a back seat to fate, Jacob wonders if he can muster the strength to rise above the only life he’s ever known.
I started (and finished) David Joy’s debut novel, Where All Light Tends to Go, in one afternoon. This was surprising to me, because based on goodreads reviews, this would not be a book that I could stay invested in…until now.
While I love crime fiction, certain noir and Southern Gothic tales are a little too heartbreaking. I have no interest in detailed gruesome murders, crank users, or heart wrenching looks at poverty stricken regions (this tale has all of that!), but I did for this ride.
David Joy is good. He’s so good, that I not only read, I cared. I cared so much, I was walking around like a heartbroken teenager for the next two days.
“What was disappointing about that school, my life, and this whole fucking place was that I’d let it beat me. I’d let what I was born into control what I’d become. Mama snorted crystal, Daddy sold it to her, and I’d never had the balls to leave.”
Joy really captures the painful feeling of having nowhere to go. Jacob McNeely’s despair and hopelessness jumps off of every page, and this is where Joy is a master. He pulls you into Jackson County (a place pulsating with dread and hopelessness), completely and without hesitation.
I borrowed this one from the library, and beyond re-reading the parts about him and his love interest Maggie, I had to return it. Because reading it again would have made me cry.
Jacob’s love interest, Maggie, is the girl who was always too good for small town life. She is the one who is kind, patient, and loves him, even though he doesn’t understand why. She also pushes the story forward, serving as a tool to show Jacob’s resilience and inherent goodness, despite the darkness and hopelessness that surrounds them both.
Personally, I feel that this book is a romance novel disguised as Southern Gothic or Appalachian Noir. (This could lead me into a rant where I criticize those who like to make fun of the romance genre, but I won’t.) Unrelenting love lies at the heart of this book. This story is about how love can give us hope and can keep us hanging on, even when we think there is nothing.