Title: The Weight of This World by David Joy
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 270 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program
Critically acclaimed author David Joy, whose debut, Where All Light Tends to Go, was hailed as “a savagely moving novel that will likely become an important addition to the great body of Southern literature” (The Huffington Post), returns to the mountains of North Carolina with a powerful story about the inescapable weight of the past.
A combat veteran returned from war, Thad Broom can’t leave the hardened world of Afghanistan behind, nor can he forgive himself for what he saw there. His mother, April, is haunted by her own demons, a secret trauma she has carried for years. Between them is Aiden McCall, loyal to both but unable to hold them together. Connected by bonds of circumstance and duty, friendship and love, these three lives are blown apart when Aiden and Thad witness the accidental death of their drug dealer and a riot of dope and cash drops in their laps. On a meth-fueled journey to nowhere, they will either find the grit to overcome the darkness or be consumed by it.
The Weight of This World by David Joy is a gritty and somewhat dark novel about three people who are trying to escape their unhappy lives.
In the poverty-stricken Appalachians, Thad Broom, his mom April Trantham and childhood friend Aiden McCall are attempting to change their lives. Thad is an Afghanistan veteran who is fed up with the snail’s pace of the VA and unable to forget what happened during his tour, he relies on alcohol and meth to keep his demons at bay. April is finally free of her abusive husband but she has been unable to move past the damage wrought by the circumstances of Thad’s conception or her parents’ and the townspeople’s reaction to her unwed pregnancy. Despite his own tragic past, Aiden is trying his best to live an honest life but the downturn in the economy leaves him struggling to find a job. He is also trying to keep Aiden from self-destructing after their drug dealer dies and they make the decision to claim his stash of drugs, cash and weapons. In an ever increasing downward spiral fueled by lack of sleep and too much alcohol and meth, Thad makes a terrible mistake that Aiden desperately tries to fix but can he save his friend from himself?
While at one time Aiden had a loving family, Thad was never that lucky. April never made any secret that she loathed her son and with her blessing, her husband set him up in his own trailer on their property when he was a child. After Aiden runs away from foster care, Thad convinces April to make take the necessary steps for him to stay with them and the two boys are thick as thieves even after Thad joins the Army. Aiden remains living on the property and working in construction until the housing market crash puts him out of work. He is still managing to hold it together even though he is not exactly making an honest living. After he returns from Afghanistan, Thad refuses to get help for his PTSD and instead chooses to self-medicate with alcohol and meth. Following the death of her husband, April is making plans for her future that will impact both Thad and Aiden if they come to fruition.
After the shocking death of their drug dealer, Aiden and Thad make a split second decision to steal his stash but things quickly go downhill when Thad invites a couple of girls to party with them. Unable to keep Thad under control, Aiden eventually carries through with their original plan to profit off their newfound windfall. However, nothing goes as planned for either men and their situation quickly goes from bad to worse. Will either of them find a way out from under the crushing weight of their bad choices and abject poverty?
The Weight of This World is a harsh and violent novel that is a heartbreakingly realistic portrait of life in rural America. The characters are difficult to like (even though it is impossible not to feel sympathy for Aiden) and while they are trapped by their own poor choices, they are also victims of circumstances that are out of their control to some degree. David Bell is a gifted writer who exposes the darker side of life but in doing so, he educates readers about how difficult it is to make a living in economically depressed areas in the United States. A very worthwhile read that is quite thought-provoking and very poignant.