Skip to main content

Everything That Follows


Everything That Follows

When faced with a moral choice, most of us like to imagine that we’d do the right thing, whatever the consequences. But in the panic of the moment, it’s all too easy for self-preservation to win out. That’s what the characters in EVERYTHING THAT FOLLOWS, Meg Little Reilly’s suspenseful second novel, discover after a tragic accident leads to a man’s death.

Kat, a glassblower living on Martha’s Vineyard, has just made her first big sale, and she’s celebrating. The summer is over and the tourists have gone home, which means the locals finally have their “kingdom” to themselves again. After a night of drinking, Kat, her friend Hunter, and a new acquaintance, Kyle, take an ill-advised nighttime sailing trip. Kyle makes an unwelcome pass at Kat, and in the hazy, confusing confrontation that follows, he goes overboard.

The rest of this quick-moving, character-driven novel spools out from this one, tragic event. It’s not giving too much away to say that Hunter and Kat most definitely do not do the right thing after Kyle disappears, for reasons that are understandable, if hardly justifiable. The mystery of what really happened on the water slowly takes over their lives (Both Kat and Hunter have different recollections of the event, and it turns out neither is exactly correct.) Kat becomes obsessed with finding out everything she can about Kyle, a bartender who only recently had arrived on the Vineyard. Meanwhile, Hunter, the ne’er-do-well son of a powerful Senator, is just trying to keep his life together. (The disaster on the boat and the ensuing cover-up is reminiscent of the real-life Chappaquiddick incident.) Sean, Kat’s good-guy boyfriend, gets roped in too, once she and Hunter confess what really happened after he left them at the bar that night.

"The setup for EVERYTHING THAT FOLLOWS is compelling, and Reilly deftly illustrates how a single moral crisis can expose dangerous fault lines in lives and relationships."

A resort town in the off-season can be an unsettling place, with the quaint, once-bustling streets having the feel of, as Reilly notes, “an abandoned carnival in a horror movie.” It’s the ideal setting for a claustrophobic novel of suspense, and Reilly uses this island location, a place where “the borders between you and the land start to blur,” to its full effect. Aside from the eerie vacantness that settles when the happy vacationers head home, there’s the isolation from the mainland and the unpredictable and sometimes nasty weather, where storms can blow up suddenly and the landscape can change dramatically overnight.

Reilly’s interest in the natural world, and the way humans are often at the mercy of it, isn’t surprising. Her 2016 debut, WE ARE UNPREPARED, concerned a young couple whose marriage breaks down in the face of a catastrophic super-storm, and was lumped in with the burgeoning genre of “cli-fi,” or climate fiction. While there’s no looming threat of global meltdown in her second novel, Reilly hasn’t abandoned environmental themes entirely. This time, it’s insidious coastal erosion that’s the threat, with the glass studio where Kat lives and works in imminent danger of collapsing into the sea. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that even seemingly solid ground is “shifting and eroding imperceptibly all the time,” with the potential to wreak havoc on our lives.

The setup for EVERYTHING THAT FOLLOWS is compelling, and Reilly deftly illustrates how a single moral crisis can expose dangerous fault lines in lives and relationships. But when the book veers into more traditional thriller territory, it’s less successful. Reilly injects extra drama into the narrative by introducing Ashley, a Tracy Flick-esque grad student studying coastal erosion who develops a strange obsession with Kat, Hunter and Sean. Ashley knows enough about ocean currents to realize that Kyle’s body didn’t enter the water where the police think it did. As she worms her way, through chance and persistence, into the friends’ lives, she also realizes they’re hiding something, and she’s determined to figure out what it is.

“[E]ager, probing, desperate Ashley” emerges as the story’s villain, threatening to expose the trio’s secrets, but she’s so thinly sketched she never rises above caricature. The weak excuse Reilly provides to explain her behavior doesn’t quite hold water, and the resolution of her quest to uncover the truth is unsatisfying.

The conclusion is also a bit too neat, and Kat and Hunter, two basically decent people who have done a terrible thing, get off awfully easy in the end. Kat, who at one point tries to convince herself that “self-preservation [is] justifiable, even moral,” spends much of the book attempting to come to terms with her actions on the night of Kyle’s death. The ending she gets doesn’t seem to do justice to the weight of her struggle.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on May 18, 2018

Everything That Follows
by Meg Little Reilly