Tuesday, December 20, 2011

And That Was When I Knew, It Was Already Too Late (The End of Everything)

So, my next review is of the book,  "The End of Everything", by Megan Abbott (not to be confused with Meg Cabot- who wrote the "Princess Diaries" series). "The End of Everything" was published this year, 2011.

   First Paragraph:

"She, light-streaky out of the corner of my eye. It's that game, the one called Bloody Murder, the name itself sending tingling nerves shooting buckshot in my belly, my gut, or wherever nerves may be. It's so late and we shouldn't be out at all, but we don't care."    

In its most basic form, it is a coming of age story, mixed with a young girl's disappearance and the aftershock that follows, all told from the point of view of 13 year-old, Lizzie. Now, the book is all in 1st person, so normally, as readers, we would connect ourselves with the storyteller and become the main protagonist, taking their place as the story unfolds. But with Lizzie, I always felt a distance and -even though every page is filled with "I's" and "me's"- I felt like Lizzie was exactly what she was, another character. It felt very much like reading about some one's life in the newspaper or a magazine. Your presence is non-existent. 

Now, for those of you who enjoy knowing (as I most certainly do) here is the blurb from the book:

"In a placid 1980s suburb in the Midwest, thirteen-year-old Lizzie Hood and her next-door neighbor Evie Verver are inseparable, best friends who swap bathing suits and field hockey sticks and between who there are, presumably, no secrets. They live in the shadow of Evie's glamorous older sister, Dusty, who, at seventeen, gives them a glimpse of the exotic, intoxicating life that might lie ahead. To Lizzie, the Verver household, presided over by Evie's bighearted father, is the world's most perfect place.
And then, one afternoon, Evie disappears. The only clue: a dark car Lizzie spotted driving past the two girls earlier in the day. As a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the quiet community, Lizzie finds herself in the spotlight, surrounded by those who want answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car with a stranger? Would she have gotten into the car with a man?
Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth, spending her days with a shell-shocked Mr. Verver and her nights prowling through backyards, peering through windows, and pushing herself to the dark center of Evie's world. Tormented by dreams of her lost friend, titillated by her own position at the heart of the disappearance and its investigation, Lizzie begins to wonder if she knew anything about her best friend at all. Haunting, vivid, and utterly unforgettable. "The End of Everything" explores the mysterious, powerful pull of young girls discovering their sexuality, and its reverberations in the world around them."

Right, now that you know exactly what the book is about, onto the review. It may seem obvious after having read the blurb, but right from the very beginning there is a strong sense of impending doom that is never shaken. A large part of it may be the subject matter, but I think it's also very much connected to Abbott's writing style. It all seems very bleak, like the atmosphere in a Tim Burton movie. You can't help but feel that something is very wrong. Another reason behind this may also be the description of every child in this book as a sexually frustrated teen or tween. I know thirteen is the beginning of the teens and all the changes that come with it, but usually it'll take the form of an innocent crush (at least for most girls) on a classmate or a member of a boy-band. But in this book, Abbott expresses her characters as almost sex-starved. Getting horny at every little thing and touching themselves at night. Maybe it's just me, but this seems a little early in their lives. I can't speak from a male point of view, but the behavior of the girls seems more fitting with girls who are a couple of years older. I know from my view, they will seem so much younger than they are. And at thirteen you do feel grown-up and life full of possibilities, but some girls haven't even hit puberty at this point. To me these scenes of the book just made me cringe. It seems wrong for it to put scenes in your head of a thirteen-year-old girl pleasuring herself. And no, it's not because I have anything against somebody masturbating or having sex (I have no issue with it in other content), but purely because of their ages. Yes, a coming-of-age story is about discovering your sexuality and noticing those of others around you, but it's the age of innocence still as well. Isn't that why they call it "Puppy Love". It should be love in its purest meaning. Or maybe I'm just being overly naive. 

Anyway, the start of the novel is a little confusing. There are a lot of ideas and fragments of stories darting around the place, never settling. Frequent flashbacks make it a little difficult to tell which parts of the story are taking place in the present, but once the first few chapters have passed, the flashbacks get less frequent and the story starts to take shape.

As I stated earlier, there is an ominous feeling to the whole novel, with the ever so slightly creepy writing style and the speculations that the characters make. How some of the girls just look at the disappearance as delicious gossip and a way to slander their missing friend. One girl even mentions a snuff film, which takes the book to a whole new level of unsettling.

I do have to say though that, even with all the theories going on and whichever one you choose to believe, the story is told in such a way that -even when all evidence points to one fact- there is always doubt. The truth dangles just out of your reach, occasionally throwing little pieces of the puzzle at you, but never letting you get enough of the picture to see it for what it is.

Another aspect that I found uncomfortable was Lizzie's relationship with Evie's father. Yes, I know this is the time when girls get their crushes, and it's not uncommon for it to be a friend's older brother, father or even a teacher. But the way her feelings for him are entwined with the disappearance of Evie and discussions of pedophilia, well, your brain can't help but connect the two. And I started to wonder why she couldn't see the similarities. Lizzie describes why she thinks someone may have abducted Evie, says she could understand how he must have felt, describing it as an all-consuming love. But in our present, it is so deeply ingrained in us that this is wrong. The feelings alone are wrong. The word 'pedophile' often seen in the same sentence as 'sick' or 'twisted'.  So how could the love be anything but? True, it's different when a young girl has a crush, but the way her feelings are described, paired with discussions of what could be happening to her friend, mix together in a way that is the epitome of "uninnocent" and disturbing.

As well as this, we see the tragic remains of a family torn apart by loss. It is raw and it is painful. There are scenes that make your heart ache. One instance in particular, where the characters are hoping that Evie has been abducted when the body of a young girl is found. I cannot even begin to imagine the frame of mind someone must be in to see abduction as a better alternative. I know the saying goes "Better to be alive than dead", but to actually get to this point, especially in these circumstances, can be nothing but heart-breaking.

On a different note, one thing I did notice about halfway through the book, was that there is very little actual dialogue. We get a few conversations with various people Lizzie meets, but almost all of the story is told through her innermost thoughts and feelings. And to do this without the readers even noticing is no small feat.

The way the tale is told draws you slowly towards what can only be described as an inevitable ending. It's almost like, somewhere in the back of your mind you knew all along. You get little whispers of it, but maybe your mind blocks you from the truth, maybe hope clouds reality, but for whatever reasons, the book could never have ended any other way. And the writing is so raw and uncompromising that you can't shield yourself against the gritty reality that is thrown at you, leaving you exposed in the dark. Never at any point in the book do you really get a sense of hope. Even if there's a break in the case, even if anything positive happens, it all feels overcast by the imposing sense of dread that never leaves, from page 1 onwards.

The book in itself is quite short, at only 246 pages, and could easily be read in a day or so. Not that this can be viewed as a criticism. In fact, the book gets across exactly what it needs to. There is no rush, no sense of urgency. The ending isn't cut short. It doesn't feel like a 250 page book. Whatever the case may be, the tale is told very well. I'm not sure if it's a book that will change your life, but you'll certainly look at the world differently once you've read it.

The ending itself is more of a conclusion in its most basic form. It answers any remaining questions, ties all the threads together and puts the last couple of pieces in the puzzle. But for me, there was no great reveal. From the very beginning, you feel like you already know the answer to the ongoing, unanswered question. Yes, there are some gaps that need filling in, but there was nothing unexpected about it. From start to finish. It's not that the book is predictable, but more that the story is told in such a way that there could never be any doubt as to how it would end.

However, apart from what I've already mentioned, while there are no real criticisms for this book, there are also no added compliments. When I think back on the text as a whole, I can't think of anything I didn't particularly like, but then there's nothing I particularly enjoyed either. It's not that the writing's bad- which is definitely isn't. Or that the story wasn't interesting. But, this book doesn't really stick out to me. It's a book that I've read, will probably reread at some point in the future, but I wouldn't feel that excitement I get when I know I'm about to read a really good book. I'm sure others will disagree and that's fine, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But for me, I don't feel like I've gained anything from reading it, but nor have I lost anything. I'm not going to say it isn't worth the read- even if I did hate it or think it was terrible in every way. I don't think I'd recommend it to a friend though. But, to be fair, I couldn't put the book down. It is definitely a page turner. Maybe, what I should say is- if you are at all interested in the story (as I was) go and get it out of the library before you think about buying it. That way there's nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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