The Why of Things (Hardcover)

A Novel

By Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop

Simon & Schuster, 9781451695755, 320pp.

Publication Date: June 11, 2013

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (6/24/2014)
Hardcover, Large Print (10/1/2013)

List Price: 24.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.


From the critically acclaimed and “bitingly intelligent” (The New York Times Book Review) author of December comes a buoyant and beautiful new novel about a family struggling in the aftermath of a suicide.

Since the tragic loss of her seventeen-year-old daughter less than a year ago, Joan Jacobs has been working hard to keep her tight-knit family from coming apart. But it seems as if she and Anders, her husband, have lost their easy comfort with each other and are unable to snap back from their isolation into the familiarity and warmth they so desperately need, both for themselves and for their surviving daughters, Eve and Eloise. The Jacobses flee to their summer home in search of peace and renewal, but moments after they arrive the family is confronted with an eerily similar tragedy: that same evening a pickup truck had driven into the quarry in their backyard. Within hours, the local police drag up the body of a young man, James Favazza.

As the Jacobs family learns more about the inexplicable events that led up to that fateful June evening, each of them becomes increasingly tangled in the emotional threads of James’ life and death: fifteenyear- old Eve grows obsessed with proving that James’ death wasn’t an accident, though the police refuse to consider this; Anders finds himself forced to face his own deepest fears; and seven-year-old Eloise unwittingly adopts James’ orphaned dog. Joan herself becomes increasingly fixated on James’ mother, a stranger whose sudden loss so closely mirrors her own. With an urgent, beautiful intimacy that her fans have come to expect from this “bitingly intelligent writer” (The New York Times), Elizabeth Hartley

Winthrop delivers a powerful, buoyant, and riveting new novel that explores the complexities of family relationships and the small triumphs that can bring unexpected healing. The Why of Things is a wise, empathetic, and exquisitely heartfelt story about the strength of family bonds. It is an unforgettable and searing tour de force.

About the Author

Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop was born and raised in New York City. She earned her BA from Harvard University and her MFA in fiction from the UC Irvine, where she was the recipient of the Schaeffer Writing Fellowship. She is the author of the novels The Why of Things, Fireworks, and December. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and St. Bernard.

Praise For The Why of Things: A Novel

“Keenly observed...richly drawn….[Winthrop]’s message, as complex as it is simple, is that the unendurable can and will be endured only if one chooses to go on.”

“A fast-paced, entertaining summer read.”

“Totally engrossing from start to finish. Winthrop’s scene building is captivating, her characterization intricately layered, and her ability to build tension both preternatural and Hitchcockian—the suspense accumulating so subtly that you don’t notice you’re getting wound up ‘til you put the book down to take a break and suddenly your teeth are clenched.”

The Why of Things is elegantly written, insightful and haunting. It is emotionally raw but never saccharine, tender but powerful, and well captures the feelings of sadness and uncertainty that follow deaths like those of Sophie and Farvazza --- but also the resilience and hopefulness that come, surprisingly and tentatively, to those left in their wake.”

"An outstanding, uplifting novel about how one family keeps on living after tragedy strikes... and strikes again."

"Winthrop writes beautifully about family bonds made solid by respect, kindness, integrity, and commitment."

A somber novel about the effects of suicide on a family and the secret wounds that become memorials…tender and true…reveals a quiet beauty.”

“An exquisitely written portrait of grief and healing.”

“With insight, respect and luminous clarity, Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop plumbs the afterlife of grief: the futile attempts to reconcile old habits and perceptions to the relentless questions that trail behind any unspeakable loss. This haunting, shimmering novel reminds us how all of us know our families: with unimaginable intimacy, and hardly at all.”
— Andrew Solomon

"Once again, Elizabeth Winthrop conjures light from a dark place in her beautifully constructed, touching novel The Why of Things. Why do some so loved willfully leave us is the question Winthrop sets out to answer--and what meaning she renders from this mystery! The book starts and ends at the same quarry's edge, but a quarry changed. Winthrop's quiet magic makes the water's mutable darkness bearable and better--nothing to be afraid of, a substance of possibilities."
— Christine Schutt

"Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop is one of the finest writers of her generation. With deeply moving intelligence and a clean, spare style, she gets right to the heart of loss and survival."
— Brad Watson