I haven’t read a book like Before You Go by Tommy Butler in a long time (or maybe ever!). It’s a unique speculative fiction novel that deftly explores the meaning of life.
The protagonist, Elliot Chance, starts out as a young boy. He spends his time catching leaves with his brother and playing baseball.
But soon, his childhood experiences become less ordinary. He starts seeing what he believes are benevolent monsters, and the way he feels about the world begins to shift. We follow him from boyhood until his death. In between, we get glimpses into what seems to be a collection of the beings who created humankind.
Somehow, by accident, they made a mistake (or is it?) by leaving a whole in the human heart that’s difficult to fill.
*I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher (Harper) in exchange for an honest review.
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Before You Go by Tommy Butler: My Thoughts
This book blew me away.
It’s a powerful novel, especially for those of us who have ever felt adrift or unsure about our purpose in this world. I love how Butler was able to drill down to the particulars of one man’s story, while also successfully covering such a sweeping, over-arching theme: what it is to be human.
It is literary fiction, so don’t go into this expecting a high-octane, heavily plot-driven story. But please don’t take that to mean it’s boring – not in the least. I enjoyed every moment; even those that were bittersweet. And despite the more serious subject matter, there were many moments that were playful and humorous.
While I (fortunately) don’t relate to everything the main character felt or experienced, many parts of the story made me feel seen. Butler has this incredible way of writing that pulls you in to even the most mundane-seeming experience, and makes you realize it’s actually quite profound (and SO relatable).
Before You Go was an emotional and fascinating speculation on the human experience. This story will stick with me for a long time, and I’m incredibly grateful to have read it. Highly recommended!
(Especially recommended for fans of David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Emily St. John Mandel.)
Rating: 5 (out of 5) stars
(Publication date: August 11th, 2020. Thank you to Harper Books for the review copy!)