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All the Colors of the Dark


All the Colors of the Dark

I really had no idea what to expect when I cracked open Chris Whitaker’s ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. I hadn’t read any of his previous novels, and the advance copy provided by the publisher offered no plot synopsis. Instead, the back cover is full of accolades from the likes of Alex Michaelides and Patricia Cornwell. But since the book weighs in at just under 600 pages, I thought I had time to figure it out.

Now that I’ve finished it, I find myself not wanting to give away too much of the plot so that readers of this review can have the same experience that I did --- of eagerly coming to understand this suspenseful, powerfully affecting novel that’s part crime fiction, part coming-of-age tale, and part heartbreaking love story, as easy to immerse yourself in as it is difficult to define.

"[ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK] only becomes more absorbing as it proceeds. Nearly every piece of this complicated, epic story falls into place in surprising, satisfying ways."

The book is set largely in the picturesque small town of Monta Clare, in the Ozark mountains of Missouri. When it opens in 1975, its main characters are young teens. Saint is a talented pianist and aspiring beekeeper, living alone with her grandmother Norma. When Joseph (nicknamed Patch for the patch he wears over his missing eye), a noted petty thief and shoplifter, attempts to make off with one of her precious jars of honey, the two clash at first but eventually become loyal friends.

But then tragedy strikes. Patch disappears for a long time, and when he returns, nothing is the same. Saint, who has spent many months trying to bring Patch home, wants to pick up their friendship where they left off. Patch, on the other hand, has become focused not on Saint but on another girl, who shared in his trauma. Her voice and stories inhabit his memories and dreams, and he grows obsessed with finding her.

From there, the novel unfolds over decades, as Saint, Patch and other members of their small town live out their lives, forever changed by the horrific events of one pivotal year. Throughout the book, Whitaker explores how childhood trauma shapes adult selves: the decisions we make, the paths we take, the relationships that succeed or fail. Saint’s and Patch’s stories are also commentaries on the ways in which a vocation, particularly an artistic one, can be a form of salvation, and kindness and loyalty can come back and grow hundredfold.

Whitaker’s writing can take a little time to settle into. The book is broken up into very short chapters (more than 250 of them, some as brief as a single paragraph), but the prose, especially in the early sections, is both impressionistic and somewhat improvisational, with words sometimes used in unusual ways: “Four days and she was remnants of before”; “Only the low purple from her attic lava lamp kept the smother from total.” This idiosyncratic syntax adds to the novel’s atmosphere, encouraging readers to sink further into a tale that only becomes more absorbing as it proceeds. Nearly every piece of this complicated, epic story falls into place in surprising, satisfying ways.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 28, 2024

All the Colors of the Dark
by Chris Whitaker

  • Publication Date: June 25, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 0593798872
  • ISBN-13: 9780593798874