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The Why of Things: A Novel

3.39 of 5 stars 3.39  ·  rating details  ·  296 ratings  ·  72 reviews
Since the tragic loss of her seventeen-year-old daughter less than a year ago, Joan Jacobs has been working hard to keep her tight-knit family from coming apart. But it seems as if she and Anders, her husband, have lost their easy comfort with each other and are unable to snap back from their isolation into the familiarity and warmth they so desperately need, both for them ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 11th 2013 by Simon & Schuster
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Lydia Presley
Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop takes on the hard subject of suicide in The Why of Things. This is not made readily apparent, and I would not have been aware that this was the subject of the book had I not read the summary of the plot beforehand - so put out of your mind any thought of the heavy-handed nature some more angsty books use to get the message across.

What I think of when I consider The Why of Things as a book is the word gentle. Every incident, every action of Evie, Eloise, and their paren
As one might expect from the title, this is not a book full of high drama. It is all the better for the lack of it. The author quietly ushers us into the lives of the Jacobs family, who are all in the midst of coping with the death of daughter/sister Sophie from just less than a year ago. 'Sophie's absence has slowly woven itself into the fabric of reality', but when the family returns to their summer home for the first time since her suicide, the wound is opened afresh. They are all slowly comi ...more
well....let me start off by saying it had a good story line to it, characters were good, convincable. But unfortunately, I feel it lacked interest, I kept waiting for something to happen, something that would want me to turn the next page, but it just seemed to lag along. I couldn't wait to be done it.
I gave it two stars cause it really wasn't a terrible story, just alittle boring for me.
The Jacobs family is still reeling from the suicide of their daughter/sister Sophie at age 17. Joan and Anders, the parents, Eve [15]and Eloise [10], the sisters, trying to prevent total disintegration of their lives, seek to fill the hours.

When they arrive at their summer home in Maine, Eve notices tire tracks in their yard, leading to the quarry behind the house, "a silent scar of the granite days, filled with the rain of years, hundreds of feet deep". The body of a man, 27, is retrieved from
Perhaps it's due to a Yankee restraint on the writer's part, but there's a certain lack of weight to "The Why of Things", despite its weighty underlying theme: how to overcome the incomprehensibility of death in all its forms. I can't tell if the writer is wearing her theme on her sleeve or well inside it. In any case, the quotidian is the focus here, and Winthrop does a beautiful job of conveying how everyday tasks and simple objects become unwitting markers and touchstones in the wake of loss. ...more
Jaclyn Day
This book is a quiet gut punch I wasn’t expecting. It’s a novel about a family—father, mother, two daughters—going back to their summer house in Massachusetts to try and put their lives back to normal. Their oldest daughter died tragically about a year prior and the family is still uncertain about how to move forward and interact with one another. The book follows each family member in different ways, but it mostly shows each of them reacting to the death of a man in the quarry behind their summ ...more
Nothing happens but everything matters in this gorgeous novel. Characters and details are beautifully rendered. The sense of place is perfect. I devoured it in one sitting. Winthrop is a genius.
Linda Marie Marsh

In attempting to keep their routines, the following summer they head to their home on the coast of Gloucester MA.
There is where the book begins, with the story mostly revolving around 14 year old Evie, when upon their arrival she discovers tire tracks that stop abruptly at the edge of their quarry. The death of James Favazza has its individual effect on each family member. It's a parallel of coping with Sophie's suicide and the feelings that his death bring to the surface in Anders, Eloise, Joa
Lyrical writing. The worst scenario, losing a child, is explored. The WHY is never discovered.
Karen M
Why, we ask ourselves at the death of a parent, a child, a sibling or a stranger. Why that moment, that place, that person and so a story unfolds.

Death creates a distancing between people. It isolates. Each dealing with what has happened in their own way. Grief. The lose of a child, a sister.

And then there is the mystery of the second death of the stranger. Eve convinces herself it might have been murder just as her sister's death was not and begins to investigate. While Joan questions how she i
Allison (The Book Wheel)
From The Book Wheel:

Before I jump into this review of The Why of Things by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop, I want to point out that while it’s a great story, it’s not a good galley to request. I say this because the NetGalley copy is a PDF file that such tiny print that it was really hard to read and I almost put it down in the first few chapters because I was tired of squinting. I may have to start paying more attention to the file types that I am requesting in the future!

Despite my husband’s obser
PacaLipstick Gramma
The author is a gifted writer, but after while it just seemed to drone on.

I am being neither callous or insensitive. I have dealt with the tragic death of a child. It feels like someone has reached in, pulled your body inside out, and dumped salt on you. My apologies to those that feel this is too graphic ~ but the pain indescribable, at times incomprehensible. There are always the "what ifs". And for all the questions you ask yourself, sometimes there are just no answers. True, you do find your
I am writing a review for this book after winning a copy on

I enjoyed reading The Why of Things by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop. I had not read any of Elizabeth's books previously; but look forward to enjoying more of her work in the future.

In The Why of Things, the Jacob family (Anders, Joan, Eve, and Eloise) return to their summer home in Cape Ann only to find a tragedy awaiting them.

In the quarry on their property a young man (James Favazza)has lost his life. Eve (15 years old) is
Hmmm. I'm left wishing I got so much more out of this book than I did. I really did like the characters, but the story just dragged. The description of the novel drew me in immediately and I felt compelled to read it, but the entire time I did read it, I kept waiting for something to truly grab me. It didn't happen.

The main action of the story focused on 15-year-old Eve trying to solve the mystery of the incident that occurred in their quarry (it opens with this, but I still don't want to give i
The unspoken arrangement between parent and child is that the child will bury the parent. Not the other way around. When any child dies, it is sad and heartbreaking, and we find ourselves left asking "why."

The Jacobs family faces this question as they continue to grieve the death of eldest daughter Sophie, nearly a year earlier. We slowly come to understand how Sophie died, but we, like her parents and two sisters, keep asking why.

The family is forced to face the whys when they arrive at their s
This is Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop’s third novel, and they just get better and better. Winthrop has a calmly beautiful way of telling a story that is seething with tension and loss. This one is about the Jacobs family arriving at their summer house on a quarry in Lanesville, a section of Gloucester, Massachusetts. For decades Winthrop has summered nearby in the village of Annisquam, so she knows the terrain well. (As her neighbor in Annisquam, it was fun for me to imagine just which locations ha ...more
What a great story. I'd never heard of this author but I'll be looking for more of her books. Not only was her writing very good, her story had just the right amount of everything. It's about a family dealing with the loss of a beloved family member & because of the good writing you actually care. The Jacobs family is real but not annoying or cheesy. They're each, mother, father, & two daughters, dealing with the suicide of the 3rd daughter in their own way. I liked how separate they wer ...more
I wanted to like it more than I did. There's lots of good about it, including the soothing lull of Winthrop's writing, the angle(s) taken on the main theme, and just enough mystery (by way of Eve's quest) to keep me reading. BUT, I didn't buy it. A high school teacher and novelist who can afford to summer away and take diving lessons? Teens who all do service abroad as a matter of course? The obvious conceit of the central coincidence? The particular flatness of the parents? Meh.
Amy M
This is such a sad, sad book. It tells the tale of a family trying to regain their equilibrium after the suicide of their oldest daughter, who was 17. The two other daughters each deal with the tragedy in their own way, while their parents do their best to care for their remaining children and also care for their marriage and each other. It's heartbreaking, but also life-affirming. A quietly powerful book about family and loss.
Barbara Melosh
Good characterization and well drawn characters in this domestic novel of a family stumbling through the loss and anguished questions of the oldest daughter's suicide. But the ending seemed a little pat and unearned, and at times it seems the author is not really probing the depths of this excruciating subject. Still, a compelling story, and I'm looking forward to reading her earlier work.
Narci Drossos
There's something so very real about this book and its characters. I felt almost as if I were in a John Irving story....I'm not sure which character I identified with the most - all were so REAL. I like that the brutal truths in life weren't contrived into a pat "happy ever after" - I find myself thinking about this book long after I finished. A beautiful, unforgettable read.
I found The Why of Things to be an enjoyable read. The Jacobs family is suffering a tragic loss of seventeen year old Sophie, who killed herself by driving into an oncoming train about a year before this story is told. She was a beloved daughter and sister and the family goes to their summer place to search for peace. But soon upon their arrival, a similar tragedy is discovered. One of the surviving daughters, Eve, discovers a pickup truck's tracks leading into the quarry, and soon the police ar ...more
A family arrives at their summer house on Cape Ann to find that someone has driven his truck into the quarry behind their home and died. As the removal and cleanup progresses and the family settles in for the summer, we learn that the family’s seventeen-year-old daughter killed herself by driving her car in front of a train. The four of them-father, mother, 15-year-old and 7-year-old sisters -are trying separately to create a new normal for their lives as they deal with their grief over their lo ...more
I actually would give this story 4.5 stars. I felt connected with the characters and since I grew up in upper New England the setting too. I loved the language style of the author and was intrigued by the mystery aspect. Although I don't need to have all the loose ends tied at the end of the plot, I felt a hole not knowing more about the reasons for James' death. I realize it wasn't needed for the resolution of the characters' healing and rebuilding of relationships but I wanted to know more. If ...more
The Why of Things is the study of a family still dealing with the death of the oldest daughter, then suddenly facing an unexplained death on their summer property before they arrive. The parents, Joan and Anders, are emotionally very far apart and having trouble finding their way back to each other, and are now unintentionally involved in this mysterious death on their property. The two remaining daughters, Eve and Eloise, are dealing in their own way. I liked the feel of their vacation home on ...more
Terri Jacobson
Joan and Anders Jacobs' eldest daughter committed suicide at the age of 17. Now it is the summer after that death, and the Anders family--the parents and daughters Eve (15 years old) and Eloise (7 years old)-- have come to spend the summer at their second home located on a quarry in Cape Ann. On the night of their arrival, they find tire tracks leading across their lawn into the quarry. They come to find out that a young man has driven his pickup truck into the quarry and has drowned. This affec ...more
Cynthia Edge
While I would not characterize this book as a "mystery" as the library labelled it, it was still an interesting book about a family who loses a child to suicide and each family member's private grief.
This novel tackles the very grim subject of suicide is a thoughtful and calming manner. In the end there are things that just can't be explained, but learning how to cope and find comfort and beauty in the here and now, makes good prose.
Jul 28, 2014 Megan marked it as to-read
Shelves: first-reads
This is the first book I have won in a goodreads giveaway. I am very excited to receive it and review it!
Beautifully written. Tells of a family and how the suicide of one of them affects them.
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