We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: March 2, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Childhood, Coming-of-age, Literary, Suspense
Somehow, in the past two weeks I stumbled into two novels that were antithetical to my usual, lighter summer reading. Both are standouts, but require the right head space. Monday was The Paper Palace and today it’s We Begin at the End—the story of Walk, a small-town chief of police, and Duchess, a teenage girl who’s developed a tough persona to deal with the bad hand that is her life. A seemingly unlikely couple, but their paths have been intertwined since before she was born.
Even when Walk was 15 he was about doing the right thing. So, while it broke his heart, he gave testimony against his best friend Vincent that sent him to prison for 30 years. The connection to Duchess is her mother Star, a beautiful woman caught in an untenable situation. She was Vincent’s girlfriend, but the event that sent him to prison shattered her world. Now, she waitresses and drinks too much, leaving Duchess to fend for herself and her 5-year-old brother, Robin. Something she does, but at the cost of her childhood. When Vincent gets out of prison and returns to town events gather like storm clouds, until they rupture in a downpour. Everything that was is swept away and Walk and Duchess respond the only way they know how—he searches for answers and she lashes out for vengeance.
Much like an archeological dig Whitaker excavates fragments of We Begin at the End with extraordinary care, reassembling them, until at the very end a skeleton stands complete. Complete, but for its characters, devoid of blood. This is not a judgement on Whitaker’s prose, because life flows through his writing onto the page. But the sorrow carried by every single character, either by their present or their past, leaves them brittle and bare. Walk, Duchess, Star, Vincent, and even little Robin all bear burdens that cannot be set down. They’re doing the best they can, but often working at cross purposes, giving We Begin at the End an elegiac symmetry and an ache that goes down to the bones.
At times she felt so far from a place she had never been, like home was somewhere out there and calling, she just did not know how to find it.
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