Publishers Weekly (starred review):
Vollmer (This World Is Not Your Home) explores in this luminous memoir the illusion of time, the oddities of faith, and the vagaries of the heart by way of a family mystery. Shortly after his mother’s death, Vollmer received a call from his father informing him that “some weird stuff’s been happening.” So begins a braided narrative spanning the year between the 2019 and 2020 winter solstices that tracks the investigation into “blinking lights in the woods” behind Vollmer’s father’s house, Vollmer’s breakaway from the Seventh-day Adventist church, and the surreal early media coverage of the pandemic. “The longer I lived,” he writes, “the less certain I felt about any so-called ‘beliefs’ I might ever lay claim to,” as Covid spreads and he considers whether the phenomenon at his father’s home might be his mother’s spirit. In sinewy, often lyrical prose, Vollmer documents the descent into despair and doubt that leads him to seek counsel from, among others, a local Episcopal rector and a “shamanic psychotherapist” quarantining in Spain. As his father reconnects with and then marries an old flame, the lights vanish, “and though I could no longer find her physical body,” Vollmer writes, “I’d returned to a world where my mother was everywhere.” This engaging what’s-in-the-woods puzzle elegantly probes the questions that characterize deep relationships and deeper mysteries.
Foreword (starred review):
All of Us Together in the End is an unforgettable record of “a purposeful journey” that became “a collision with the ineffable.”
A writer navigates the challenging first year of the pandemic in addition to the grief caused by the death of his mother. In January 2020, as the Covid-19 virus was just arriving in the U.S., Vollmer, a professor of English and author of two books of short stories and two essay collections, was mourning the loss of his mother, who had died three months earlier due to complications related to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. He was also becoming increasingly obsessed with the mysterious lights his father saw flickering in the woods almost nightly at their family home in the mountains of western North Carolina. Vollmer wondered if the lights were a sign that his mother was trying to communicate with them from beyond the grave. His father, a staunch Seventh-day Adventist, refused to believe in the possibility of ghostly presences, but he grew increasingly unsettled by the lights, to the point that several of his friends and colleagues called his son, concerned about his mental state. By May 2020, his father had reconnected with Jolene, a woman he knew in college now living in Guam. At that time, the lights stopped appearing. Two months later, Jolene was in the U.S., and the two immediately married. Much of the book revolves around the author’s swirling memories of the past, particularly of his dynamic and loving mother before her decline. Those memories are entangled with his ambivalent relationship with the strict religion in which he was raised as well as with his mother’s concerns that his abandonment of Adventism would risk the possibility that his family could reunite “all of us together in the end” in the afterlife. Raising more questions than he answers, Vollmer nevertheless delicately portrays his “unmoored” state of mind and its evolving connection to radical changes to his family and the world. A tender and touching, if inconclusive, tribute to family bonds.