Monday, January 2, 2017

Book Review: "The Weight of This World" by David Joy

"In that way, this day was no different from any day that had come before, and that was part of what kept Aiden up at night: the cyclical nature of it all. For his entire life everything had been a continuous whirling of disappointment, the circle seeming to tighten and become just a little more certain with each passing year."

Aiden McCall has known nothing other than his small North Carolina town, and virtually known nothing other than being poor his entire life. Orphaned at a young age, he fended for himself until his best friend, Thad Broom, convinced his mother and her boyfriend to let Aiden stay with them. Aiden and Thad have been inseparable ever since, except for when Thad joined the military and went to Afghanistan.

With the economy in tatters, there is very little for Aiden and Thad to do in order to make money, so they resort to stripping foreclosed houses of wiring and other supplies, and much to Aiden's chagrin, they use most of their earnings to buy drugs. (He dreams of getting out of their town and heading somewhere slightly larger, where there was more opportunity.) Thad returned from Afghanistan with a significant back injury, and his time in the military left him changed emotionally as well, unable to shake the things he saw and did which continue to haunt him, and drugs provide him the only escape.

"Whether a man was born one way or another, he wound up doing things that haunted him the rest of life. People made mistakes that couldn't be fixed...When it all boiled down to it, the only difference between one person and another was whether there was someone to jump in and keep you from drowning."

One night, everything changes. Thad and Aiden's drug dealer accidentally dies in front of them, which leaves them with a significant amount of crystal meth, not to mention weapons and money. The two react in different ways—Aiden tries figuring out how to sell what they're able to take, while Thad loses control and connects with a troubled trio of people, to whom he reveals their secrets. That split-second decision sends Thad and Aiden down a path with dangerous consequences, and both will be tested physically and emotionally, pushed to the brink of survival.

I felt a pervading sense of doom, danger, and bleakness from the opening pages of this book. Even though Aiden and Thad made questionable—and in some cases, troubling—decisions at times in their lives, I still felt like their upbringing left them at a disadvantage from which it was nearly insurmountable to recover.

Can the path of our lives be changed by our actions, or is it predetermined? Does not having a loving family put you at a disadvantage? David Joy explores the answers to those questions, although he makes no real excuses for his characters. This is a dark book, although there are glimmers of hope (in an interesting way), but Joy's storytelling keeps you from getting utterly depressed. His use of imagery is tremendous as well; you can hear the noises and see the sights he describes.

This is the first of Joy's books I've read, and I'm definitely going to read his debut novel, Where All Light Tends to Go, which I've also heard is terrific. This isn't the happiest of books, but the characters he has created and the story he unfurls hooks you so you need to know what happens. Moving and evocative.

NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP Putnam provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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