What Comes After

by JoAnne Tompkins
Riverhead Books, April 2021, $28

“The greatest mysteries lie hidden in what we think we already know,” says Isaac Balch, a single father overwhelmed by grief and a loss of faith after the sudden, violent deaths of his son Daniel and Daniel’s best friend Jonah, whom Isaac regarded as a second son.

Just a few weeks later, as Isaac is still struggling to make sense of the tragedy, Evangeline, a homeless, pregnant 16-year-old, shows up under a tree in his backyard, freezing and filthy. Lonely, needy, and wary, Isaac and Evangeline each wrestle in their own ways with learning to trust others while trying to hold on to their secrets. Things get even more complicated when circumstances require Isaac to ask Lorrie, Jonah’s mother and Isaac’s nearest neighbor, to help Evangeline, knowing that she may have had a connection to the dead boys.

In Tompkins’ masterful examination of human fragility and resilience, what happened to the boys is far from the only mystery. Almost nothing is what it seems and new revelations shock the community. What Comes After is a moving exploration of truth, love, faith, friendship, family, and forgiveness through the distinct and unforgettable voices of Isaac, Evangeline, and Jonah. Each of them combines vulnerability and strength as they journey through loneliness and pain towards connection and joy. Their story is compelling and surprising, revealing unexpected connections and rifts among the fully imagined and relatable characters.

Tompkins’ writing is lucid, evocative, and often witty, whether depicting mundane activities or near-mystical experiences. While not a conventional mystery, What Comes After delves into the mysteries of the human psyche with insight and empathy that lingers in the reader’s mind long past the last page.

Jean Gazis
Teri Duerr
April 2021
Riverhead Books