We Begin at the End is an extraordinary novel and one that's difficult to talk about without giving plot points away. Just when I thought I had things figured out, author Chris Whitaker would throw in another twist, another surprise, and have me racing to reconfigure everything in my mind. The opening scene grabbed me by the throat, and I hadn't read many more pages before I knew that I was reading something very special. The further I read, the more I knew I was right.
We Begin at the End is a story about loyalty, a story about secrets, a story about redemption, and the one thing that powers this book into one of the best books I've ever read is its characters. These characters are going to live with me for a long time. Chief Walker, who seems to feel responsible for everyone and does his level best to protect them all. Dolly and Hal in Montana for their love and patience in dealing with difficult personalities. Martha May the lawyer who prefers defending battered women. Young Thomas Noble who sees Duchess Day Radley for the treasure she is and sticks to her like glue.
And-- towering above them all-- Duchess Day Radley, herself. Readers will be hard-pressed to find another thirteen-year-old who can so easily make them wince, make them laugh, make them hold their breath, and make them cry. If you tell Duchess that, when life hands her lemons, she's supposed to make lemonade, you'd better duck because those lemons are going to be flying straight at your head. This young girl is so filled with rage and hurt and love that you want to wrap her in a bear hug and never ever let another thing hurt her. What does she want? It's simple. Just listen to what she tells her mother: "I just wish there was a middle, you know. Because that's where people live. It doesn't have to be all or nothing... sink or swim like that. Most people just tread water, and that's enough. Because when you're sinking, you're pulling us down with you."
If you want to know if Duchess Day Radley and her brother Robin ever get to experience life in the middle, pick up a copy of We Begin at the End. It's a phenomenal book.
Wow! Chris Whitaker provides a very unique reading experience in We Begin at The End, and George Newbern's narration of the audiobook is perfection. It reminds me of Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, one of my all-time favorite novels - high praise indeed.
The writing style is quite spare so it took me a bit to settle in, but once I did, I was there for every carefully chosen word. I came to care deeply for this cast of characters, every one of them seriously flawed - I'll be thinking of them for quite some time. The plot includes several themes - found family, coming-of-age, and mysterious deaths with shades of a police procedural and courtroom drama - all come together as a cohesive and satisfying result.
If you tried reading this and didn't finish, please give this story another chance, preferably on audio.