In What Follows After by Dan Walsh, Scott and Gina Harrison are separated, but no one knows it. They attend functions together and ask their boys, Colt, age 11, and Timmy, age 6, to pretend as if everything is all right. But everyone is miserable, and Colt has finally had enough. He decides to take the money he has saved and buy bus tickets for himself and Timmy to go to their favorite aunt and uncle’s house. They feel sure their aunt and uncle will take them in, listen to their side of the situation, and talk some sense into their parents.
Everything goes as planned until the bus stops for a short break. Colt and Timmy get something to eat at a nearby diner. When all sorts of Army vehicles begin to pass by, Timmy is enthralled and won’t come when Colt needs to use the restroom. Colt decides it won’t hurt to leave Timmy there for a few minutes. But when he comes back, Timmy is gone. The waitress said he went out with a man she thought was their dad. They had gotten on a different bus heading the opposite direction from their aunt and uncle’s house.
The story is set in 1962 Florida on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis, which, though it doesn’t affect the story directly (except in taking attention and manpower away from the kidnapping case), does add a layer of tension. I was born in the 50s and thought Walsh did a good job recreating that era.
There are a lot of threads to the story: Scott and Gina’s relationship, what led to its current standing, the kidnapping, the motive and the man who did it, race relations in the South at the time, and people’s reactions to the current crisis with Cuba. I thought the overall story was good, and Walsh brought out a lot of good points about the Harrison’s marriage and what needed to be done to mend it.
Walsh is known for writing that tugs at the heartstrings, for books that could easily be made in Hallmark movies. But though all the elements were there to make this another winner, somehow it just fell flat to me. The characters did not seem fully developed and some of the conversation seemed cliche. Whatever it is that draws me in and really makes me feel for the characters just seemed to be missing this time. But, skimming through reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, none of them seemed to have any objections except just a very few people who didn’t like the religious element. So maybe it was just me.
But even though I didn’t feel it was up to Walsh’s usual standards, it’s still a fine book and I’d still recommend it. Maybe you’ll like it better than I did. I especially like the paragraph from which the title comes, that “what follows after” a crisis or terrible situation can be good, that God can bring beauty and blessing out of misery and work all things together for good for those who love Him.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)