A large family saga set in a coastal tourist town. One sister chained by family tradition. The second stunted by her sister’s shadow. The youngest propelled by desperation.
Gwen is the oldest of four children in the Aaldenberg family, and the one who seems to have it all. She's also most desperate to escape. Betta, having nursed their dying grandpa for the past three years, is anxious for Gwen to go, so she can finally have reins to the family business. And Esmerelda, viciously determined to follow in Gwen's footsteps, vies for popularity as a freshman in high school, only to learn she must sell her soul, reputation, and most prized possession for acceptance.
As their father struggles with retirement and their mother with depression, Gwen discovers the debt her grandfather’s passing left them in—and during a time of year when their coastal town, dependent on tourists, can barely sustain itself. Gwen and their father agree Betta can’t take over the store under such stressful circumstances, not when she’s been carrying the load for so long, and to protect Betta, they play it off that she needs some time to rest.
When Gwen’s fiancé moves to town, Gwen does her best to resign herself to a local life, while Betta struggles for meaning without the store. In order to carve out a place for herself, Betta must decide to what lengths she’ll go in order to become her own person, and Gwen must decide what’s more important: her sister or her future.
Can this family pull through their disappointment, jealousy, and regret? Or will they cling so tightly to their desires that it ruins them?
Plot: Mercer’s story is set in a struggling tumbleweed of a beach town, with one family at its center. Passing time is marked by emotionally traumatic or uplifting events, which are exceptionally well conveyed through Mercer’s delicate plotting.
Prose: Mercer’s prose flows through this beach town family saga quite smoothly and evocatively. Meticulous descriptions capture circumstances both mundane and exceptional--death, loss of innocence, proclamations of love, starting over, and rebuilding broken lives.
Originality: Writing in a singular style, Mercer explores the emotional and psychological growth and decline of a complicated family. The author brings to light how adherence to tradition may diminish familial bonds, rather than strengthen them.
Character Development: Characters are intricately woven, unique, and relatable. The line between protagonist and antagonist in the Aaldenberg household is intentionally blurred.
Date Submitted: July 18, 2018
"While the struggles of the Aaldenberg women are painful, they are nevertheless a healthy antidote to the saccharine families often depicted in popular media...There are lovers, sibling rivalries, petty jealousies and devastating self-doubts. All the main characters find themselves struggling both externally and internally.It is only when they admit their flaws to themselves and embrace their true virtues that they can begin to turn their lives into something resembling their dreams. Thus, AFTER THEY GO by J. Mercer ends on a note of hope – not only for the Aaldenberg clan but for all of the novel’s readers as well."
"The Aaldenbergs are strict believers in tradition. Their lives revolve around the family hardware store—a centerpiece of their small hometown, where livelihoods are driven by tourist seasons, loans, and the generosity of neighbors. The family is thrown into disarray, however, when their patriarch dies from cancer..."
"With the riveting intrigue and melodrama of a soap opera, Mercer (Dark & Stormy, 2017) infuses rich psychoanalytical insight into each gesture and conversation: “Esmerelda loved how his smiles worked in fractions. She liked measuring them, what made them pass a quarter to a half, and what kind of seriously fabulous business pushed him to three-fourths.”
"...Mercer’s prose is lucid and her themes of redemption and reinvention are resonant..."
"...each character has a very distinctive voice. Pulling them all together the author has created an unconventional, emotional story of family..."
"After They Go follows a year in the life of the Aaldenbergs, a family whose roots run deep in a small tourist town near Boston. Told from the third-person perspectives of the women in the family, author J. Mercer crafts a heartwarming portrait of love, sacrifice, growing up, and finding oneself."
"Mercer’s prose is solid, evoking a strong sense of character and place that adds intensity and texture to the narrative."
"Gwen’s and Betta’s storylines will appeal to fans of women’s fiction, while Ez’s narrative will satisfy those looking for a coming-of-age story. Overall, readers who enjoy family sagas will find After They Go an engaging read."