The Sharps are a bookish family. The lovely Wonder Woman and I are both avid readers, and this really shouldn't come as a surprise since we coauthored a book together. Books are one of the most important things that we have in common, and we went to a bookstore on our first date. Of course, at the end of the night I got turned down for date #2, but that isn't what this blog post is about.
A few weeks ago I posted a conversation between the Wonder Woman
and I about the book The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. That was so much fun we did it again with The Long And Faraway Gone by Lou Berney.
Here's how Amazon describes The Long And Faraway Gone:
With the compelling narrative tension and psychological complexity of the works of Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, Kate Atkinson, and Michael Connelly, Edgar Award-nominee Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone is a smart, fiercely compassionate crime story that explores the mysteries of memory and the impact of violence on survivors—and the lengths they will go to find the painful truth of the events that scarred their lives.
In the summer of 1986, two tragedies rocked Oklahoma City. Six movie-theater employees were killed in an armed robbery, while one inexplicably survived. Then, a teenage girl vanished from the annual State Fair. Neither crime was ever solved.
Twenty-five years later, the reverberations of those unsolved cases quietly echo through survivors’ lives. A private investigator in Vegas, Wyatt’s latest inquiry takes him back to a past he’s tried to escape—and drags him deeper into the harrowing mystery of the movie house robbery that left six of his friends dead.
Like Wyatt, Julianna struggles with the past—with the day her beautiful older sister Genevieve disappeared. When Julianna discovers that one of the original suspects has resurfaced, she’ll stop at nothing to find answers.
As Wyatt's case becomes more complicated and dangerous, and Julianna seeks answers from a ghost, their obsessive quests not only stir memories of youth and first love, but also begin to illuminate dark secrets of the past. But will their shared passion and obsession heal them, or push them closer to the edge? Even if they find the truth, will it help them understand what happened, that long and faraway gone summer? Will it set them free—or ultimately destroy them?
Here is our exchange done over email. Yes, over email. It was more fun this way. Just in case this doesn't make sense the text below someone's picture is what they wrote. I think it makes sense this way, but then again I once thought it would be a good idea to unplug a stereo with a screwdriver. Also, as you read the exchange you will realize that not only did we do this over email, but it took at least a month to accomplish this seemingly simple task. We blame the children.
Ok, so to kick off our discussion of The Long and Faraway Gone I have to give the disclaimer that this was one of my favorite books I've read in a while. I thought it was very well written, especially for the mystery/thriller genre. I suspect I liked this book more than you did. What were your general thoughts on the book, and how did you feel about the two main characters - Wyatt and Julianna?
I liked the book a lot, actually! It definitely held my interest and kept me guessing. I find a lot of times with mystery or suspense books or TV shows, I am pretty good at guessing what is going to happen, but not so much with The Long and Faraway Gone.
Both of the main characters were likeable, but I probably preferred Wyatt a bit more. They both seemed to be well-rounded characters in that they had strengths and flaws, and became believable as people to me. Have you ever read a book where the author just didn’t do a good job of selling the characters, so to speak? Like, they just weren’t believable and it was hard to envision them as real people? Anyway, both Wyatt and Julianna, despite the tragedies in each of their lives, had redeeming qualities and charmed me as a reader.
What were your thoughts on Wyatt and Julianna?
Were you surprised by some of the author’s twists, or did you guess a lot of what was going to happen?
Ok, so maybe you liked the book almost as much as I did. You are very good at guessing what is going to happen. You are also good at pausing the TV and asking what's happening, just as a character is opening his mouth to explain it. I don't know what that has to do with this book, but it is one of my favorite things.
I am with you that Wyatt with a smidge more interesting to me. Both he and Julianna were good characters, but for some reason, which I can't really put my finger on, he seemed to resonate a little more with me. Perhaps it was because the trauma he had undergone was more internalized. Julianna was trying to solve the disappearance of her sister, but Wyatt was trying to figure out why he had been the only survivor of a mass shooting. Maybe that was or, or maybe it had something to do with his reticence to opening up that part of his past. Julianna was full-speed ahead the whole time, but Wyatt was very conflicted on his past, maybe that extra complexity made him a bit more interesting.
I was surprised by the twists. I didn't really see any of the big things coming, but I did pick up on certain things that were fishy. Like the ex-husband of one character who was in a different state for example. I liked the twists of the story too because they felt well-thought out. Sometimes in these books it can feel like a twist is is designed to completely turn things on their heads, but it doesn't make for great story-telling. One of the things I was constantly impressed with in this book was how well-told of a story it was. Since neither of us really saw the exact twists coming it made for a fun ride.
One thing that I experienced while reading this book was a very surreal sense of the passage of time. Wyatt would have been a little older than me and Julianna a little younger. I don't know why (perhaps being over 40 as you keep reminding me) but this book seemed to hit home to me like I think it wouldn't have 5-10 years ago. Do you think this is because I am so old now? Did you experience any of this while reading this book?
Well, at least you’re finally admitting that you’re old now. That’s a great step in the right direction! ;-)
I don’t know that I experienced the same surrealness (is that even a word??) that you did, but I can see what you are saying. The book did seem to jump around quite a bit on its own timeline, and sometimes it took me a moment to catch up with it. So I think I was focused more on keeping up with where (or when, rather) the characters were in their story so I didn’t miss anything.
What theme stood out to you in the book?
Just remember that you are the one who married the old guy, and yet you still insist for some strange reason that I will outlive you. It can be very confusing being married to you sometimes.
The book did jump around on the timeline some, but one of the things that stood out to me was how well done it was. When there was a jump it felt like it really added something to the story, and it wasn't just an author trying to trick it up a little bit.
The themes in this book were interesting. I've already alluded to it, but the theme of the past and what role it plays in our lives was interesting to me. Obviously, the main characters had traumatic events in their past, but the way in which each of them handled it was totally different. Wyatt basically tried to leave the past behind (didn't work), and Julianna stayed obsessed by it. Again, maybe I've just gotten to the place in life where I am more aware of the passage of time, but I thought this really pulled me into the story as a reader.
What themes stuck out to you? And as we start to wrap this conversation up what did you think about the ending? Was it satisfying or frustrating for you?
Well, since it’s been over a month since we started this little back and forth, I guess it’s about time I actually responded again. Have I mentioned I’ve been busy lately??
Probably the theme that stuck out the most was the pursuit of truth, both in the present and in the past timelines. Both of the main characters had moved on from the tragedies in their past, but they were only going through the motions. Their lives were still fragmented in the present because they had never found out the truth of the past.
I found the ending very satisfying. When reading a book I don’t necessarily need everything to be neatly tied up and have a pretty bow on it, but I do need closure for characters I feel invested in. And this book definitely gave closure for both of the main characters. Not necessarily in a way I had imagined, but still closure.
Did you like the ending?
I don't know what you are talking about with being busy. It's not like you have a husband, four kids, a job, and are writing a Psalms Bible Study in your "spare time." What could you possible have to do other than this?
Anyway the ending was very, well you said it, satisfying. It didn't wrap everything up in a way that made the book feel like a waste of time, but it did respect the reader's relationship with the characters and give them closure. There were still some twists at the end so it wasn't predictable, and it left me thinking about the story, but not in a "what the heck" sort of way that happens whey mystery writers get too cute and start pulling on plot strings that didn't even exist until the last chapter.
Ok, so for the final assessment of "If This Book Was a Meal..." I am going to say that this book for me was Tupelo Honey, and you know how much I like Tupelo Honey. As mystery books go it just seemed to hit all the right notes, and left me wanting more. (Side note I listened to the audiobook of Berney's book just before this one Whiplash River and didn't like it nearly as much. That doesn't change the fact that I am still very interested in his next book coming out next month.). If this book was a meal what was it for you?
Hmm…I think you’re onto something with Tupelo Honey. I don’t want to eat there every meal, but we certainly like it enough to have eaten there several times. So I will concur with your meal analogy.
I have our next book we need to discuss! It’s called The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I’ve already finished it, and it was SO GOOD. So now you have some catching up to do!!