We Begin at the End
Westerns are not usually a genre of novel that I like to read - I know we have a dedicated number of readers for westerns in our Libraries and this has expanded now to include a number of titles that cross into the realms of romance as well with the more extreme examples degenerating to the murky depths of erotic fiction.
But you’ll be glad to hear that ‘We Begin at the End’ by Chris Whitaker does not fall into any of these categories – though it has been described as part western, part crime, part tragic family drama. Based in California it is the gritty tale of the Radley family. Sissy Radley’s murder 30 years before has affected the Radley family ever since, her sister Star’s life has not gone well and her niece, 13 year old Duchess Day Radley, a self-proclaimed ‘outlaw’, is left to look after both her brother and her druggie mother best she can. Small town America watches on and judges every move she makes and when her Aunt’s murderer returns to town after his prison release the family is scrutinised even more. Chris Whitaker manages to make the character of Duchess Day so compelling that we feel her every heartache, every struggle against an unforgiving world. The police Chief, Walk, is torn between his concern for her and her mother and the tension of doing his job and protecting the convicted murderer, his childhood school friend. Time has been served and the penalty paid but the town has a long memory.
It is Duchess who stayed with me long after I reluctantly read the last page - tragic, spunky, older than her years, loyal to a fault – the family bond is heart-breakingly strong between her and her young brother and she demonstrates her fierce love for him with every move she makes.
I was fascinated to learn the back story of the author Chris Whitaker who started off his career as a Stock Broker and Fund Manager who ended up in debt to his company by £1 million at 24 years old. His coping strategy (which he gleaned from a library book) was to turn to creative writing to work through his mental anxiety and trauma and the character of Duchess began developing in a variety of scenarios – many of which ended up in this novel. He has never travelled to either California or Montana - both locations in the novel which he chose to be as far from his own real life as possible. An exercise in escapism which has resulted in a completely new career for him.
Interestingly enough Chris’s job now is Librarian as well as writer.
This was one of my recent ‘novels of the year’. It’s not often that I am left feeling so bereft when I have finished reading a novel. It’s not an easy read, sort of like a mix between True Grit and Where the Crawdads Sing, but it is intensely readable. The style of writing is unusual, colloquial, with rambling half-finished sentences, but once I got used to that I became immersed in Duchess’s world.
Try it for yourself and let me know what you think – it is available to download as an eBook on BorrowBox and eBook on Libby. You can request from your local Library here.