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The Why of Things

3.36  ·  Rating Details ·  351 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
From the critically acclaimed and “bitingly intelligent” (The New York Times Book Review) author of December comes a buoyant and beautiful new novel about a family struggling in the aftermath of a suicide.

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 s
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 11th 2013 by Simon & Schuster
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Community Reviews

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Lydia Presley
Jun 18, 2013 Lydia Presley rated it really liked it
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
Jul 16, 2013 Zoeytron rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
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
Jun 19, 2013 Kathleen rated it it was ok
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.
Renita D'Silva
Jul 13, 2015 Renita D'Silva rated it liked it
A beautiful exploration of grief and survival after the loss of a loved one. A heart rending tale, sensitively told.
Jul 07, 2013 Vox rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 10, 2015 Eileen rated it liked it
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
Apr 26, 2013 Lynn rated it really liked it
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
May 04, 2013 Rose rated it it was amazing
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
Jaclyn Day
May 15, 2014 Jaclyn Day rated it really liked it
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
Jul 07, 2016 Patsey added it
Shelves: 2016
Thoughtful. Do books choose you? Do you pick a book to read at the time in your life when you need it? Death and dying is on my mind with Mom in hospital. Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop writes these words TO ME:
"In all the thinking he's done about death over the past year, he's been able to find no solace in any concept he has considered; the scientific reality depresses him, and the notion of heaven is impossible to believe. But down here, he comes to his own understanding of a single energy that i
Jul 28, 2013 Mary rated it it was amazing
Lyrical writing. The worst scenario, losing a child, is explored. The WHY is never discovered.
Aug 29, 2013 Dorothy rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 27, 2015 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This novel did what I tried to do with my short story, "Skydiving," in how it dealt with the aftermath of a suicide on the surviving family. Sophie, the girl who killed herself, was largely indistinct, save for generalities about being bound for college and having a teenage social circle at her summer home. I struggled for the same with my character, Andrea; I didn't want to go too deep into what she did (or why) and even who she was as a person, and the reason for that choice is explored so won ...more
Jul 24, 2013 Peter rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-literary
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
Allison Hiltz
Jan 02, 2015 Allison Hiltz rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2013
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
Karen M
Jun 23, 2013 Karen M rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads, fiction
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
Nov 30, 2013 Cheryl rated it really liked it
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
Hattie Richards
Oct 12, 2015 Hattie Richards rated it really liked it
This was the book that finally prompted me to google “How to write a book review.” This was immediately followed by a complete disregard for their suggested layout and content. Because what struck a particular cord was not the vocabulary, pace, sequence of events or characterisation. It was the resonance of a single question, loaded with endless opportunities for inference or possibilities; ‘why?’

A personal empathy with the characters aside, after the initial confusion regarding Eve’s motives w
Jul 07, 2013 Nora rated it liked it
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
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
Jul 13, 2013 Alecia rated it liked it
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
Jun 07, 2013 ChrisGA rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
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
Aug 22, 2013 Charlene rated it really liked it
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
Melissa Jones
Jan 20, 2014 Melissa Jones rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-adult
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
Terri Jacobson
Aug 04, 2013 Terri Jacobson rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Linda Marie Marsh
Aug 27, 2014 Linda Marie Marsh rated it really liked it

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
Jun 30, 2013 Ak rated it really liked it
The level of detail in her descriptions of everything reminded of THE HOBBIT's twice-normal frame rate: so much information that it hurt the brain a bit - but at the same time absorbing and totally convincing. She conveys rural and semi-rural New England, and the routines of daily life, so accurately and believably that one feels voyeuristic when reading the novel. There is not one false step in the portrayals of the characters' emotional lives. The title refers to the novel's enjoyable parallel ...more
Jul 14, 2013 Donna rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
This book was amazing. It was not at all what I expected. Rather than dealing with the details of the daughter's suicide, the author used the family's involvement with the death of the young man who drove into their quarry as a way of coming to terms with the whys of death. The development of each family member was well done, although I was disappointed that Eloise, the youngest daughter, was left as a rather superficial character. The last 30 pages of the book were written with just the right a ...more
Aug 23, 2013 Marielle rated it really liked it
Ha! I just finished reading this yesterday, and I'm having to think really hard what it was about! Perhaps more a reflection on my 2am arrival back home from South Carolina than the book itself! This was given to me by a dear friend, Arwen! who helps run a bookstore in Gloucester. Gave me a fun perspective, as Arwen knows the author, and the book is based around the Cape Ann area. I enjoyed this story of a family in crisis, trying to get back together after a tragedy. There was also a mystery in ...more
Jan 10, 2015 Ronni rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
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.
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