After the prelude, the first section of the book follows Bill Ashcraft, a drifter who is loaded up on drugs. Appropriate to the character - for the parts where we are following his narrative - the story is jumping back and forth between his past and present with no direct warning in-between, full of non-sequiturs, and frankly - hard to follow. In my Advanced Reader's Copy, this section is a quarter of the book, and there were several times during this part in which I came close to giving up entirely on the book. I'm saying it was well written, but purposely hard to follow in places.
The rest of the book is much more straight forward. We are re-introduced to several characters that appeared in the Bill section, with mostly overlapping timelines. The story still switches between past and present with little warning, but because the narrative is sober, there is easier context to follow. I found myself quite eager to continue once the drugged part of the narrative was over.
The past... the parts where these characters are recalling the things that happened in high school reminded me of watching Riverdale, but darker and way more adult. There is a lot of things going on, gossip, love, infatuation, cheating, and conspiracy.
There are politics and diverse political viewpoints throughout this book from many different characters. The most obvious view of a die-hard liberal is the drug addled Bill Ashcraft, who comes off as more an anarchist than a liberal. While the many views of core conservatives included a deeply racist, radical that got his start from family money; an assistant pastor who quotes Leviticus to his gay sister and Rick Brinklan who puts patriotism and following a Republican president above all other political considerations. The political alignments on these character's other traits felt like caricature instead of character, which is sad because its the only other aspect (after the drugged narrative) that took me out of the story. There's a lot of politics in this story for it not to be about politics, and the static nature here is offset by the personal relationships.
There are friendships, loves, love affairs, fights, hugs, rape and lots of consensual sex. While it felt like a lot of sex (especially during the high-school years), the inter-personal relationships were dynamic, complex, and the emotions were nuanced. Relationships affected other relationships, affairs had consequences. Rape is not glorified but brutal, and the explanations, excuses and rumors felt all so real.
While there aren't a lot of action sequences, the ones that exist were surprisingly easy to follow. I, as a reader, often have trouble following fast paced action sequences, and even the ones that occurred during the drugged narrative were crisp and clear, and I felt I understood what was happening the whole time.
Ultimately, this book explores the ripples that happen because of loss. A job, a whole factory, a lover gone away without explanation or a friend lost to war. Innocence less lost, but enthusiastically tossed aside, with the emotional consequences no less for irreverence. This exploration of loss is the theme within this book that really resonates with me. There's also a plot-line of this book that is a mystery, which will satisfy those who enjoy some mystery as well.
I haven't figured out where to go with the actual rating of books on this blog. Despite my criticism, the overall story works, and I'm glad I stuck it out.