The Premise: Carver is waiting for his friends to pick him up from work, so he sends a text message to ask when they’ll be there. The car crashes and all his friends die. Goodbye Days follows Carver’s attempts to overcome his grief, guilt and possible criminal investigations.
Thoughts: obviously, Goodbye Days is incredibly, heartbreakingly sad. It’s sad on the first page, it’s sad on the last page and it’s sad on all the pages in between. Sometimes, I almost thought it was too sad; I wondered why I was reading something that was making me feel so profoundly upset. This is probably a question about literature as a whole, rather than this specific book.
In the case of Zentner, the reason you keep reading is that his writing is so beautiful that it would be criminal not to carry on. Carver is a writer too, so his first person narrative is full of delicate and devastating reflections on his feelings. Most upsetting are the flashbacks to the times he spent with Blake, Eli and Mars; the reader only gets to know them through these flashbacks, which makes us feel like we’re missing out, because they sound amazing. I can’t remember a fictional group of friends that sounded so authentic, warm and hilarious. Zentner achieved all of these things with The Serpent King too; tragic stories and touching friendships are clearly his thing. There are some beautiful family relationships here too; I particularly liked Carver’s sister and feel strongly that she needs her own book, please and thank you.
Weirdly, there’s plenty of humour in Goodbye Days too; the friendship of the Sauce Crew, as Carver and his friends referred to themselves, is based on the kind of banter that often doesn’t quite work on paper, but it’s brilliantly realised here. But then the funny bits just make the sad bits sadder, because they’re over; this book could be used as the dictionary definition of ‘bittersweet’.
In Conclusion: Goodbye Days is sad. Did I mention that? It’s really, really bloody sad. But it’s also warm and lovely and exquisitely written. I felt completely absorbed in Carver’s story; he’s an appealing character and it’s impossible not to feel for him. The book also makes you consider ideas about responsibility and blame, with Carver’s role in the death of his best friends under scrutiny throughout. I think everyone should read Goodbye Days, but be warned; you need to be feeling emotionally strong before you commit.