“Before You Go: A Novel” by Tommy Butler— Answering Big Questions

Butler, Tommy. “Before You Go: A Novel”,Harper, 2020.

Answering Big Questions

Amos Lassen

Tommy Butler’s “Before You Go” is a life-affirming exploration of “the most perplexing questions of existence: purpose, the pain of loneliness, the desire for happiness, and the price we pay as we search for fulfillment.”

Elliot Chance is just a boy, and knows that he doesn’t feel at home in this world and really wants to escape. This desire becomes more pressing as he becomes an adult when he finds no way to relieve the emptiness that he feels. He is desperate and lost. He comes upon a support group on the edge of Manhattan. There he meets two other drifting souls—Sasha, a young woman who leaves coded messages in the copy she writes for advertising campaigns, and Bannor, who writes detailed depictions of the future that make Elliot think he may have actually been there. With these two unlikely allies, Elliot begins to lie and is determined to be happy in spite of himself. He learns that is not easy to repair his feelings.

We are taken on an imaginative journey into the ache and wonder of being human, and the journey to find a meaningful life. In lyrical and beautifulprose, Butler shares his beliefs  on the value of life. This story of a young man struggling with depression alternates with chapters about an unorthodox version of heaven.

Butler discusses life, finding its purpose, death, dealing with pain and many more issues of the entire existence of human beings.  The story starts with the making of mankind where the manufacturers leave a void in the hearts of humans by mistake. That emptiness  makes them feel incomplete and lost.

As a young boy, Chance feels lost in this world. He thinks that he doesn’t belong here and attempts to leave the world in many ways. He wants to believe in magic and an entirely different magical world but people around him constantly confront him with the hard truth and as he grows into adulthood, the more he wants to take his own life.  Butler has a deep sense of understanding a lot of unanswered questions about the pain we experience. 

I would not say that this is an easy read. It’s slow and philosophical but it is rewarding. Even with their problems, the characters are likable. All in all, the novel is very real and painfully so. It is speculative literary fiction, that tries to give  answers to questions beyond even those of life and death. In exploring human longing through desire, curiosity and ambition, we learn to keep moving forward.

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