Study Guide

Where Things Come Back Plot Analysis

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Plot Analysis


Small Town Death

The scene of the story is set by Cullen's cousin Oslo's death in the small town of Lily, Arkansas. The Witter family is rocked by this development, and everyone is feeling quite glum about it. At the same time, we get to see the story of a young missionary named Benton Sage who goes off to Africa in order to save some souls for Jesus. Unfortunately, he doesn't find it as rewarding as he'd hoped to, though. How do these stories connect? We don't know yet—but the stage is definitely set.

Rising Action

Things Go Away and Come Back

Things start to heat up when Cullen's brother, Gabriel, goes missing, and an extinct woodpecker supposedly shows up in Lily. At the same time, Benton comes home from his mission and is totally shamed by his family; he decides to go off to college to get away from their razor sharp disappointment in him. His roommate at school is a rich kid named Cabot, and the surprisingly two hit off. With Gabriel gone and Benton alienated from his family, tension is on the rise.


Mistakes Were Made

To take his mind off of his brother's disappearance and to keep himself sane, Cullen starts dating his dream girl, Ada Taylor, even though he suspects that all of her attention is due to the fact that she feels sorry for him. Benton commits suicide and Cabot is left to deal with the aftermath, especially since Benton's family doesn't seem to care much—it's a major turning point for Cabot, and he starts to crack a bit. It's also starting to seem like the whole woodpecker thing might be a farce too; no one's actually seen the bird, despite the nature dude's insistence that it's there.

Falling Action

Accept the Truth

Things start falling into place in Lily, Arkansas. It comes out that the whole woodpecker thing is completely untrue—there is no bird. At the same time, Ada breaks it off with Cullen so that she can spend time with her ex-boyfriend. And Cullen starts to think that maybe Gabriel will never be found after all… that maybe his beloved brother is dead.

In Cabot's storyline, we see that he's married a girl named Alma Ember (who happens to be a girl that Cullen dates briefly, too), though their relationship ends badly and in divorce because he's kind of crazy. Cabot goes to Lily to chase Alma down, gets wind of the fact that she's been dating Cullen, and winds up kidnapping Gabriel, thinking that he's his brother. It might not be pretty, but things are definitely coming together at this point.


The Prodigal Son Returns

In the end, all the puzzle pieces fall into place. Gabriel manages to get away from crazy Cabot and comes home to his family. Lily is as he left it—Cullen is no longer dating Alma, and the woodpecker debacle has blown over—and Gabriel's return sets things right again. As the book ends, everything is as it should be.

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