As a reader, making that discovery of an author you know you are going to read forever is one of the best things that can happen. Immediately locking onto a voice that is fresh yet one you have faith in for future work is always a gift. It’s like starting a romantic relationship, but with more trust. It is the way I felt when reading David Joy’s Where All Light tends To Go.
The book begins both poignant and pitch perfect with the protagonist, Jacob McNeely, looking down at a high school graduation in his North Carolina home town. It would have been his class, if he hadn’t dropped out. He feels the lost chance for a different path and a life with Maggie, his lost love, as she tosses up her cap. He also feels trapped – caught in his small town forever to work for his meth-running father, a life he refuses to accept Maggie sharing.
The book then jumps to that summer after graduation, where Jacob struggles to escape his fate. He meets Maggie at a graduation party he crashes. It’s a moment that rekindles their relationship and shows the violent outbursts that he can succumb to when he spots someone giving her cocaine. Soon after, his father pulls him further into the family business by making him the accomplice to a murder. When a witness survives, Jacob is ordered to finish the job.
Joy vividly captures the feeling of being weighed down by one’s background and circumstance. Jacob’s father may be nothing more than a barracuda, but his small pond makes him a shark, and he thinks he has a kingdom and a legacy. He’s done all he can to make Jacob believe there is a fence around him, preventing all hope of escape. One wonders if his violent outbursts are part of family breeding and training. When Maggie tells him she should follow him out of town when she goes to college all he can think of are the reasons not to. It all melds with the noir trope of faith beautifully.
All of this is placed with great craftsmanship. By placing the story in an eighteen year-old’s summer, Joy sets his story into a tight structure, yet allows an assured pace that breathes with character and life. He can also deliver a strong action scene, like a chase with Jacob pursued by the police when he is holding.
By infusing a new perspective into rural noir, Joy gives new life and possibilities to the subgenre. He gives us a society where drugs and poverty have scorched the earth so harshly, there is no chance of the seeds of youth to grow, all presented in the style of a well crafted singer-songwriter ballad. Yes, everybody needs to get know David Joy.
You can find copies of Where All Light Tends To Go on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.