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Literature / Where Things Come Back

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Where Things Come Back is an award winning 2011 novel by John Corey Whaley. In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart rendering summer before Cullen Witter's senior year of high school, everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town vanishes. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker; and most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.

As Cullen navigates a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young, disillusioned missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. And when those two stories collide, a surprising and harrowing climax emerges that is tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, and above all, hope.

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Tropes include:

  • Accidental Kidnapping: Cabot Searcy, upon hearing that Cullen is going on a date with Alma Ember, drives to the Witter house, but ends up kidnapping Gabriel instead. The kidnapping would've been there either way, though.
  • Always Someone Better: Cullen says several times that he wishes he were like Lucas Cader.
  • And I Must Scream: In Cullen's daydream from chapter 20, where he ends up in a mute, fancy version of his house with everybody he knows, but they all turn into zombies and Cullen can't scream.
  • Archangel Gabriel: Cabot keeps Gabriel kidnapped because he believes he is the human incarnation of the archangel of the same name.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: By the time Cabot Searcy almost kidnaps Cullen for going on one date with his ex-wife, it's safe to say that he's not in a normal state of mind.
  • Full-Name Basis: Pretty much all of the characters.
  • Grammar Nazi: Cullen describes Gabriel as this.
  • Hated Hometown: Cullen describes Lily, Arkansas as a black hole that nobody can ever escape.
  • Jerkass: John Barling is viewed as one first, having left wife and children to pursue the "ever reclusive" Lazarus Woodpecker. He's not all bad, however, as he truly misses his little girls.
  • Jerk Jock: Russel Quitman, though he can also be seen at a more pitiable angle after he ends up paralyzed after a car wreck.
  • Large Ham: Not as notable as some other examples, but Aunt Julia could qualify, with John Barling to a lesser extent.
  • Little Brother Instinct: Eddie Fish does this towards Laura Fish by punching Cullen in the face when he unintentionally insults her.
  • Messianic Archetype: Gabriel fits the qualifications, though it becomes something of a plot point when Cabot mistakes him for the human reincarnation of Gabriel the Archangel .
  • Mr. Imagination: Cullen spends a lot of time imagining things like fighting off zombies.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Benton Sage's father was very hard and strict on Benton due to his religious beliefs. Rather than helping Benton become a better Christian, they lead him to becoming an athiest and altogether drive him to suicide .
  • No Antagonist: The closest people we get to antagonists are John Barling and Cabot Searcy, both of which can be portrayed at a pitiable level, and both of which don't particularly qualify.
  • Stepford Smiler: Lucas Cader is implied to be one due to the deaths of his father and older brother.
  • Title Drop: The last book title Cullen jots down in his notebook is the title of the novel.
  • Twisted Christmas: On Christmas day, Benton Sage commits suicide by jumping off of a bell tower.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The A Story centers on Cullen and the B Story centers on Benton Sage before his suicide, after which focus shifts to Cabot Searcy.


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