Cover Image: Those We Thought We Knew

Those We Thought We Knew

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Member Reviews

This novel was well written and the plot interesting, but it was full of speeches and moments meant to teach us Very Important Lessons. They were lessons I agreed with, but it still felt very heavy handed. I did love the last chapter, though.
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"In this line of work [police], a man saw all sorts of things, and eventually he came to believe he’d seen it all. But if he’d been at it as long as Coggins, he’d come to know that there was no border, no grand finale, no ending or limit to the wicked of this world. There was always a darker darkness still."
▪️David Joy, Those We Thought We Knew, 5⭐

Thank you again @putnambooks for a finished copy to read and review. I also grabbed the audiobook to listen to because it's Macleod Andrews again, and he's so ridiculously perfect for Joy's stories.
Published 8/1/23. For fans of:
▪️Literary fiction
▪️Life in the South/Appalachia
▪️Multi POV
▪️Procedural murder thriller
▪️Racism, corruption

Like all of Joy's books, his newest release is a heart wrenching gut punch. I found TWTWK especially haunting as he steered his focus from the opioid/drug crisis of his other books, to a violent and angry narrative exploring the racial divide, American history and patriotism, and how much we hate to be made uncomfortable.

He set out to write from and for a white audience, that we have to lead and participate in uncomfortable conversations, not solely rely on BIPOC voices to do the work for us and hold our hands. Joy did an incredible job creating characters representing a handful of the typical arguments we make when confronted with racism and that forces the reader to confront their own thoughts.

The final reveal is chilling. The ending is crafted in such a way that the loose ends continue to discomfort and challenge, reminding us that this is a reality still at work. Reading this was like a fiction story bringing to life what I read in Layla Saad's Me and White Supremacy.
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Toya is finishing her MFA and spending the summer with her grandmother in a small North Carolina mountain town.  She’s disturbed by several things she learns and expresses her views through two outdoor artistic expressions, described as “art as an instrument of social change.”  Her work is not well received and sets off a chain of events that has deadly consequences.
Those We Thought We Knew is beautifully written with fully developed characters, including the town itself.  I felt transported with the descriptions and challenged by some of the discussion.  The story starts slowly as groundwork is laid and key characters are introduced.  The last third or so of the book is very compulsive as all the threads come together.  While I wasn’t totally happy with some of the reveals at the end, it was overall a solid 4 star book for me.
Thanks to Netgalley and Putnam Books for the opportunity to read Those We Thought We Knew in exchange for an honest review.
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Very very good book. Honestly leaves you breathless in the quality of the writing and storytelling. It deals with the South and both how it can be an anceteral home and place of great sorrow. Love the book and how it unfolds following the main character as she uncovers the truth about her family history and the town that her family has inherited. Great all around.
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Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on August 1, 2023

Detective Leah Green works for a small Sheriff’s Office in a mountain community. She’s investigating the murder of Toya Gardner. Toya was a black civil rights activist. She returned to her home to protest a statue honoring a Confederate officer. Green believes Toya’s murder is related to the beating of a sheriff’s deputy who was unofficially investigating the Klan.

Sheriff John Coggins is focused on the beating of his deputy and wants Green to handle Toya’s murder on her own. He says he views the beating and the murder as unrelated crimes. In truth, when Toya’s father was still alive, he was Coggins’ best friend. Coggins quarreled with Toya about her activism before she died and, now that she’s been murdered, he seems to be troubled by his emotions. Toya all but calls him a racist. Coggins doesn't believe her father saw him that way, although they never had a meaningful discussion about race. Staying sober has been a challenge during Coggins' forty years as Sheriff. After Toya’s death, it’s a challenge he’s losing.

Ernie Allison is the deputy who takes a beating. He arrested William Dean Cawthorne for public drunkenness. By the time Ernie arrived, Cawthorne had passed out in his car. Ernie searched the car and found a Klan robe. He also found a notebook that appeared to list Klan members. Some are in politics, some in law enforcement. Ernie didn’t seize the notebook, but when he went back to take another look at it, the notebook was gone. His awareness of the names in the notebook might explain why he was left for dead under a giant illuminated cross.

Figuring out who attacked Ernie isn’t difficult after Ernie regains consciousness and, despite his limited memory, provides a few clues. Cawthorne is the obvious suspect for Toya’s murder but crime fiction fans know that the obvious suspect rarely proves to be the killer. Other suspects include a college kid, an eccentric man who saw a snake in his house and won’t set foot inside it at night, a gun dealer who trades in unlawful firearms, and a “grumpy old cuss.” None of those suspects seem particularly promising, but who knows?

Much of the novel addresses the complexity of race relations. White characters who are not overtly racist nevertheless make familiar arguments about how Confederate statues reflect heritage. They claim (usually without actual knowledge) that their ancestors owned no slaves. They don’t feel responsible for the lingering impact of slavery and don’t recognize the racist symbolism that is inherent in Confederate memorials. They complain that activists “stir things up” and deny that they personally benefitted from slavery.

Toya and some other characters argue that many white people in modern America enjoy a privilege that has been denied to many black people, a privilege that represents the vestiges of slavery. They argue that their voices are not heard and that whites who defend Confederate memorials on the ground of tradition deliberately ignore the intent to perpetuate black subjugation that drove southern states to insurrection.

It’s heartening when a white character explains how he transcended the white supremacist atmosphere in which he was raised. He has learned that being proud of your heritage doesn’t mean embracing everything the heritage entails. The character argues that most of his peers never opened a book after they dropped out of school. They base their knowledge of history on an uncritical acceptance of whatever their fathers told them.

Characters on both sides of the debate feel that the other side isn’t listening, but the reality is that black people have had no choice but to listen to white perspectives since the Civil War ended. It is the “traditionalists” who have closed their minds to the truth about the tradition they defend. That some white people are awakening to the impact of racism on American society has caused frantic condemnations of by the likes of Fon DeSantis about people who are "woke,” as if listening to people with an open mind and learning from them is a bad thing. (I should make clear that this paragraph represents my editorializing. The novel doesn't mention DeSantis or even the word "woke.")

Notwithstanding the importance to society of conversations like those imagined in the novel, long lectures don’t necessarily lend themselves to good fiction. Too much pontification places a drag on crime novels. You either get it or you don’t. Readers who get it don’t need to wade through obvious lectures to reinforce their beliefs. Readers who don’t get it — well, how many of them actually read a novel that doesn’t have guns on the cover or the word Patriot in the title?

Those We Thought We Knew works best when it captures the pain of Toya’s mother and grandmother, both of whom feel a mix of pride at her bravery and regret that they didn’t talk her out of high-profile activism in a redneck community. A scene involving the grandmother’s response to redneck kids revving the diesel engine of a pickup to pollute a candlelight vigil for Toya is the novel’s high point.

The revelation of the killer’s identity isn’t much of a surprise, if only because it seems intended to further David Joy’s political point at the expense of creating a strong ending. Again, while I agree with the novel’s recognition that people who defend Confederate statues are not basing their opinions on reason or history, Joy’s determination to make the point that they are defending a tradition of racism interferes with his storytelling. The strengths of Those We Thought We Knew nevertheless outweigh my reservations about the way the story is told.

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Race relations come to a boiling point in a North Carolina town, and local law enforcement must solve two brutal crimes in the aftermath.  Definitely an auto-buy/read author for me.  I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book the most.  Very discussable book and ending.  I was provided with an advance reader copy via NetGalley.
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David Joy is a brilliant writer. His stories, set in the Carolina mountains that he calls home are resonant, visceral, and always about believable characters that hail from the hardscrabble working class. Those We Thought We Knew is his best. My thanks go to Net Galley and Putnam Penguin for the review copy. This book is for sale now. 

Sylva, North Carolina is the sort of insular, homespun community that you don’t see much of anymore. Everybody knows everybody, not only by name but by family, religion, and a host of salient details that form their backstories. There’s not a lot of traffic in or out of Sylva, nestled as it is in a hollow of the mountains. Now, however, two newcomers have arrived, but they aren’t together. Surely not. One is a lowlife vagrant, a pencil-necked, mullet-headed, greasy drunk in an ’84 Caprice named William Dean Cawthorne. When the sheriff’s deputies roust him, one of them finds a small notebook that contains some surprising names; he also has a long, white robe in the car, and with it, a conical white head covering with eyeholes in it. Mr. Cawthorne, you see, is a recruiter for the Klan. 

Toya Gardner comes to town at about the same time to visit her grandmother and work on her thesis. She’s a graduate student from Atlanta; she creates meaningful African-American sculptures and other art works. But when she finds the statue of the Confederate soldier in the town square, she is inspired to make a different artistic statement than she’d originally planned, and when she does, all hell breaks loose. 

This searing story sees two terrible crimes unfold in sleepy little Sylva. The dynamics that exist between the county sheriff, the Sylva police force, and the local citizenry—particularly Toya’s family—are rich and complex, and they showcase Joy’s best character development to date. In the end, we must concede that alongside the horrors represented by overt white supremacists, the more chilling may be that which simmers below the surface of men and women that, yes, We Thought We Knew. 

This is brave writing. Joy will no doubt be the subject of some unfriendly attention because of it. My hope is that it draws the accolades that it deserves from those that seek true social justice, and that it will inspire useful, critical introspection and conversation on the part of its readers. 

Highly recommended.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Group Putnam for the eARC.

I have not read anything by this author before, but after reading this one I know I will. This book is hard - you need to know that going into it. The author is not going to care about how you feel and if the words will be hard to digest, perhaps that is more so the point. Highly recommend.
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Not a new author to me. Love David Joy’s actual writing so he’ll probably always get 5 stars. I would give the actual story 4 stars though. It was great Joy took so much care with the subject matter and nothing was too violent, gratuitous, or preachy + absolutely loved the character of grandmother Vess but I agree with other reviews that say if you already believe in the statement Black Lives Matter vs. “All Lives Matter” this book “is only preaching to the choir” and not offering anything super new there. Don’t get me wrong. There are people who need to read this story from a proud southern man who walks among them (but reads books and has empathy for others) but do THOSE people read for pleasure?? Do those people do anything but write everything off to call anything too woke? I almost wish this story had just been turned inside out and we knew who did what (or at least who killed the artist) from the get go and the book was just what face they were keeping in public knowing they committed the crimes and were “untouchable” in their communities while the family of the victim grieved the loss of a bright thriving young woman, activist, and artist because neither crime was a mystery to anyone that has ever read a book and it wouldn’t have changed the book that much for me personally.
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I figured out pretty quickly how the story would end, and it didn’t really cover any new ground as far as race discussions go, but I still enjoyed it. 
Thanks to #netgalley and #gpputnamssons for this #arc of #thosewethoughtweknew by #davidjoy in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you Netgalley for this ARC of Those We Thought We Knew by David Joy.

This is now by second book by David Joy and if I've learned anything about him, he's not going to play nice with you.  He has no regard for your feelings, but somehow takes care of them anyway.  Definitely don't pick his stuff up if you're not in a good place.

This feels like a spoiler, but how can it be, when it's right in the title.  This is a story about Those We Thought We Knew.  When it comes to issues like racism, social justice, inequality, reform, social change, who can we count on?  Who is in our corner?  And who is the nice guy that would turn a blind eye to obvious injustices.  Who is the white friend who would fight hard to protect caustic traditions?  That's a large crux of this story, and it's brutal, but it will definitely make you think.  It's well written and worth reading, just take care of yourself.
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David Joy's work is earthy, tangible, gritty in the best sense of the word. His characters live close to the land even as his prose soars high above it. "Those We Thought We Knew" takes Joy's readers into provocative territory, asking them to consider their own thoughts on race and racial relations in America. The answers, all too often, are heartbreaking and tragic. This is a challenging read, not because of the quality of the writing but because of the questions it inspires. Highly recommended.
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Thanks to Book of the Month Club, David Joy introduced me to one of those lesser known authors who I think deserves more attention, and I followed up The Line That Held Us by finishing his whole backlist. 

He is so good at creating a strong sense of place and the comparison to Flannery O’Connor is fair. His stories always expose a dark side of humanity but his characters are not flat or stereotypical but written as real people. 

This was not my favorite book of his. It felt very different than his others, less gritty and more philosophical and sentimental. In reading interviews with Joy about this book, it seems as though he wanted to write a story that would prompt white readers to wrestle with questions of racism as he has done in the past. I think I just felt like the story was at the mercy of the message and consequently lacked a certain impact. There were some very overtly racist characters but then the more subtle revelations of racism from other characters weren’t really explorer as much as they could have. There were a few conversations about things like the meaning of the Confederate flag and white people not noticing racism or speaking up against jokes and discrimination but that’s as far as it went. 

The pacing was slow, particularly in the beginning, and I was never fully drawn in to the story. The story itself didn’t feel particularly original and actually felt like it was missing some pieces. It feels unfinished and rushed. A few important plot points were skipped over and briefly summarized after the fact but I wanted more. 

So overall, this just felt underwhelming and didn’t live up to my expectations. I will, however, still read probably every book Joy writes.
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THIS book! This book has solidified David Joy's spot in my list of favorite authors. His writing is so poignant and beautifully descriptive and so full of truth. The characters he creates are so richly developed but very flawed - so very human.

I need everybody to read this one. It's so relevant during times like these where people are defending songs like "Try That In A Small Town". I loved this book because the story was gripping and intense, but it also left me with a sadness at how real world the story is.

I don't normally do quotes from books, but this one I feel compelled to. Here are my favorites from this ARC:

“You can be proud of where you come from and not proud of everything that history entails. That’s what so many of these people don’t seem to be able to wrap their heads around."


"There were people in this world so privileged that the notion of enduring any discomfort at all, even for a second, struck them as trauma."

I highly recommend this book. Please read it! It was released today, so go find it. 5 ⭐️'s.
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Dang - why aren’t people talking about this book? I think there’s some fear with the fact that he’s a white man telling a story in the south but man this is good. Will be telling everyone I know to  read this.
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murder mystery at its finest. The book is perfect for those that want a deeper murder mystery. very fast moving  plot involving klan and deeply rooted racism.
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Those we Thought We Knew is a conversation on race.  It is sort of a mystery, although the name pretty much gives away the solution.  Toya is a fiercely individual black artist from Atlanta, working on her thesis.  She's staying with her grandmother Vess in a rural town in North Carolina for the summer, using space in a studio in the local college to work, covered in clay.  Toya is also an activist and early in the novel, she gets some friends to help her create an installation at the college that is shocking to some members of the community and forces a few to confront the racial divide in the town. It means Sheriff Coggins has to get involved and he wishes, wishes, wishes Toya would cool it, while giving her a break due to his friendship with Vess. David Joy sets up a variety of relationships and points of view as well as a couple of very violent crimes, to educate us on racial perspectives.  I like how he illustrates the fundamental ignorance of a lot of white people about their assumptions on race and how the Black characters consistently hold us accountable.  The story is well written.  

I admit that the same thing I like about this novel, felt stereotypically constructed.  It was as if David Joy had a checklist of issues he wanted to cover and he created characters and vignettes for each.  A traditional Klan man. A new age Klan man. People everyone knew were Klan members.  People no one guessed were Klan members.  A white guy loved in the community who was always close fishing buddies with a Black guy who was loved in the community.  The matriarch of a Black family who goes along to get along.  The daughter of the matriarch who left and succeeded in a career away from the exhausting pressures of growing up in a town stifling to a young Black girl..  The back woods, kind of dumb red neck.  The Black minister.  Members of the police and sheriffs department with varying degrees of reactions to change from totally close minded to evolving.  I know how much I as a white person need to learn, every day, about privilege, about the permeation of racism, about microagression, about resisting the truth because it's too hard (fragility) and so I appreciated this lesson couched in an entertaining story.  It is well written.  It is entertaining.  It is not too much.  It should be taught in Florida.
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David Joy’s most recent novel returns us to his home state of North Carolina for a deeply personal and pertinent story of racism, cultural identity, family, and community. The tightly woven narrative propels you forward while David’s literary prowess shines in each sentence and descriptive detail. An important book for our times and another hit from one of the best in the biz.
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Set in North Carolina in 2019, this is the story of a town that is forced to face some truths that they would prefer not to see. Toya Gardner is a 24 year old Black artist who is spending time with her grandmother Vessa while she completes her master’s thesis. Toya is from Atlanta, and has not spent much time at the ancestral home. What she sees in this small town jars her. And she has not been raised to turn away from conflict. Her first act of defiance is to create an art installation, drawing attention to the fact that a college had moved the buried remains of African and Native Americans to make room for a new college hall. “They bulldozed a Cherokee mound and razed a Black church. Those are the things that school chose to move.” Toya’s second conflict comes when she defaces a Confederate monument. Drawing the ire of many who refuse to acknowledge its racist significance. 

Around the same time as Toya’s arrival, William Dean Cawthorn is arrested for sleeping one off in his car. Cawthorn is a member of the KKK from Mississippi, who has arrived armed and carrying a list of Klan members, including prominent members of this town. One of these citizens is Slade Ashe, who tells Cawthorn that “white power’s not just some catchphrase, son, some hollow slogan you get tattooed on your back. No, it’s as real a thing as the shine on these boots.” (Boots he has just had shined by a young woman from Senegal who has been imported to town for the summer, purportedly to “build a little job experience”.) Cawthorn is way too crude for Ashe. The new KKK has “traded our robes for business suits” (although the robes still come out when a statement needs to be made.) Deputy Ernie Allison wants to delve further into Cawthorn’s list, but it suspiciously disappears after the arrest. 

This book had wonderful, complex characters and a plot that kept me constantly engaged. The author did not shy away from presenting different points of view. The book went in a direction that I was not expecting. I was completely shocked at the end of Part I of the book. I thought that it was slightly disingenuous that so many didn’t notice the Klan (or at least their beliefs) in their midst. But that was sort of the point of the book. You don’t see what is right in front of your face until you are forced to, even when you are extremely close to someone. 

I love this author so much. I recommend every book I’ve read by him. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Macleod Andrews. He did an excellent job. 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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Well this one ended up being very different than what I was expecting. I thought the premise sounded so good. Don't get me wrong , it was a good story… it was descriptive and atmospheric, but I really struggled with the pacing. It was quite slow, and predictable. 

Toya Gardner is a young Black artist from Atlanta who returns to her ancestral home in North Carolina to trace her family history. While there, she sees a Confederate monument and then vows to do something about it. Meanwhile , deputies find a man sleeping in his station wagon and upon further search of his vehicle find out that he is a high ranking member of the Klan. He also has a notebook with locals names in it which could threaten the community.

I think that Joy has gift for writing but this one just wasn't my favorite. I feel like this was maybe too cliche, like a story that has been told many times over. 

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for the gifted copy. All opinions are my own. My review will be posted on Instagram,   Goodreads, and Amazon.
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