The Weight of This World by David Joy
Book Review: 3 out of 5 stars
The weight of this world has weighed heavily on the shoulders of the three main characters. Thad is back from a tour in Afghanistan and can’t come to terms with the horrific event that happened there. His mother, April, has her own secrets and violent past that she’s battling to get out from under. And Aidan watched his father kill himself and Aidan’s mother when he was a child. There’s no honest work to be found so Thad and Aidan find some dishonest work and both turn to alcohol and drugs to get through their days. When their drug dealer violently dies, his drugs and money are theirs but only if they can stay away from the meth long enough to figure out what to do with it.
Doesn’t sound too cheery, does it? This is a very dark book but that isn’t what bothered me about this one. We each have our own demons to bear and while some people’s demons may be worse than others, we all have choices to make in life. We can choose to blame our rotten luck and we can blame our stupid choices on others. But in the end, those choices are ours to make and we really only have ourselves to blame for them. This author didn’t seem to see it that way.
In reading the glowing reviews of this book, I expected to feel great compassion for these characters. They certainly had been through a lot and I tried to feel compassionate for them. But while I felt sympathy for them, I also felt turned off by them and their choices (and their choices didn’t just include drugs and alcohol). Plus the mother’s reason for not loving her son was completely unacceptable. I now read those glowing reviews and wonder how the writers of those reviews could have read the same book as I did. At one point Aidan says, “Perhaps God just had it out for certain folks and he’d been borne one of the unlucky ones.” That’s pretty much the theme of the whole book.
So why am I giving it even 3 stars? The writing is really beautiful. Here’s one random example taken from an Advanced Reading Copy so the wording may change in the final edition:
“They crawled along the edges of great cairns, stones the size of houses balanced with an unfathomable gravity as if they’d been set just so by the hands of some watchmaker god.”
The beauty of the language the author uses in some places contrasts sharply with the rough, coarse language used elsewhere. If these characters could have looked around them at the beauty that the author was describing instead of wallowing in their miserable pasts, their spirits would have lifted. While I found the book unpleasant to read, it really is a brilliant lesson on why you shouldn’t let the weight of the world weigh you down.
Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world. ~ Helen Keller