Beth Duke Gives One Life Meaning
The question as to what we leave behind once we depart this world will likely torture us for innumerable years to come, with every theory being as good and plausible as the next one. Achieving some kind of lasting presence in the world extending beyond their demise is a way, for some people, to attain some form of meaning in their lives, and it’s exactly the case for Violet in Beth Duke’s It All Comes Back to You.
When the story opens, we are introduced to two relatively different women. The first one, Violet, was a beautiful and universally-beloved seventeen-year-old girl in 1947, making her way in life through the post-war euphoria. The second woman is Veronica “Ronni” Johnson, and she’s taking care of Violet in the year 2012, who wants for nothing much, other than some male admirers.
Ronni knows bits and pieces about Violet’s life, and when the latter passes away, she plays one final card in the world of the living. She challenges Ronni to complete and publish a book about her (Violet’s) life within a year, upon which she stands to inherit a rather sizable fortune.
Thus, the young woman embarks on a quest which takes her deep into the past and across the lives of many different people, some of whom she only knows as struggling octogenarians. In addition, she also tries to juggle some aspects of her own life, including her work, her boyfriend, and the massive baggage of issues she carries with her.
Where most people would have been swayed by the scent of money alone, Ronni’s curiosity about the woman and tremendous compassion for her lead on a road of ceaseless discoveries and revelations. As she is about to find out soon enough, human lives hold more secrets than their beings could ever hope to display in front of the world.
The Story of One Soul in It All Comes Back to You
Though there are indeed additional considerations in this book, the meat of it revolves around Violet’s life and uncovering the details behind the many events which made her into the person Ronni came to know. Though we do spend time learning about other characters, it all almost feels like an incidental byproduct of tracing Violet’s existence.
At first, the chapters and the plot structure do feel somewhat tedious to follow, consistently jumping back and forth in time between Ronni’s investigation and the knowledge she uncovers. However, it didn’t take me too long to get used to this format, and I even came to enjoy the somewhat disjointed feeling of it, which I believe is mimicking Violet’s state of mind in her final days.
Part of the appeal is also the fact we are given glimpses and hints of the things Violet lived through, and until we actually learn about them they churn in our imagination and heighten the sense of mystery, as well as the satisfaction of discovery.
I think at this stage I ought to mention, this isn’t the kind of story which always moves forward at a quick pace. Instead, it’s more like a slice-of-life novel, where our advancement through the book consists of learning about someone’s life, rather than seeing a character achieve a particular goal. If you aren’t mentally ready for this, the plot might appear to meander from time to time.
As for the nature of the things we learn about Violet go, much of it is filled with love, laughter and happiness, though she wasn’t immune to dark and difficult times either. On the whole, the tale of her life is a very uplifting one, which from my experience, seems like a greater rarity in today’s literature.
As I mentioned it above, much of the story is indeed focused on Violet’s life, but let us not forget our protagonist Ronni whose story, even if it isn’t as extensive or complete yet, also holds its fair share of interesting elements.
First off, I found her character was just very well-written and developed from start to finish, going from a life of uncertainty and inexperience to understanding what truly matters to her. She’s kind and optimistic soul herself, and I very much enjoyed the fact her quest wasn’t fuelled by the money she stood to make from it, but her legitimate interest in Violet’s life and past.
As we go further into the novel, we are also given enough materials to begin comparing the two women, and I think most of us will come to the realization they are incredibly similar, despite having grown up decades apart. There are definitely some interesting observations about the human qualities which persevere through different eras and societies, the universal wants and needs ruling us all.
It doesn’t feel like it at first, but Ronni’s own journey grows in importance as we move closer to the ending, and there was a point where it felt like it took over Violet’s tale. Though the old woman’s journey might be over, the young one’s seems to be just beginning. It almost felt as if Ronni was earning the right to carry Violet’s memory and life within her, and once she did, she became the leader of the story.
I found there was a good amount of unexpected depth to Ronni’s personal story and development, and just like with Violet, it largely stays in the realm of love and laughter, despite the occasional darkness which might fall upon it.
The Final Verdict
It All Comes Back to You by Beth Duke is a touching, thought-provoking, and humorous work of Southern fiction conveyed through an excellent and creative prose capable of making us feel, learn, and become engaged in the lives of other people.
If you are looking for a novel which can make you laugh and experience the magnificent depth a human life can hold, I strongly recommend you give this novel a read.
Beth Duke is an author native of Alabama where she still resides to this day. She has the distinction of having been ranked as a bestseller on Amazon, and received short story awards across two continents.
Some of her better-known publications include Delaney’s People, Tapestry, and her most prominent work to date, It All Comes Back to You.