BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Megan Abbott
2011, Reagan Arthur Books
Filed Under: Literary, Thriller.
The End of Everything is a curious beast. It manages to at once be a coming-of-age exploration of girlhood and a somewhat disturbing suburban thriller. What surprised me most was the depths Abbot was able to plumb in a relatively short, and at times predictable, story. It’s not a perfect book by any means, but a lot of different types of readers will find it to be worth their while.
It is the story of two girls in 1980’s Midwest suburbia. Lizzie and Evie are inseparable, both just beginning to navigate that awkward pubescent stage somewhere between childhood innocence and adult sexuality. Then one day Evie simply vanishes. The whole town goes upside-down, at least for a while, and Lizzie devotes her time to solving the mystery. She quickly proves an insightful narrator. When Evie’s father, Mr. Verver, hears a rumor of Evie’s possible drowning, Lizzie reads him perfectly:
What a tortured wisp of hope to cling to–instead of drowning, his daughter has been secreted away by a lurching man three times her age, but it’s there. It’s the strand we’ve got and we clutch at it madly.
Her perception and inferences make for a double-edged blade. Ultimately, Lizzie’s narration is both the book’s greatest asset and what holds it back from being truly great. As I mentioned, Lizzie is in the transformative stages of adolescence. Although she is no longer a child, she certainly lacks the experience or emotional maturity of an adult. But Lizzie sometimes internalizes far too wisely:
My head goes crazy with thoughts of Mr. Verver, [then] age twenty-one, a mop of dark hair and a boy’s body lurched fast over the keys. Did his collarbones jut, his Adam’s apple bob? Did he have that awkward slouch of boys who grew so fast they themselves seemed bewildered by it, faintly dazed in their own skin?
This wouldn’t be so jarring if she were a retrospective narrator, but the book is written in the first person in the present tense. At times, this causes a disconnect between Lizzie the character and Lizzie the narrator. It’s not always so, however–sometimes Abbot writes her pitch perfect:
Here’s the thing: Evie is gone, has been gone for six days, and no one can find her and it is not long, another day, before it starts to feel like no one really expects her to be found. It starts to feel like everyone is waiting to hear where the body was dumped and what was done to it.
The fluctuations in Lizzie’s narration aside, this is a very strong book. The plot (which I won’t divulge any further) is compelling all the way through. Even if some of the plot points are slightly predictable, witnessing Lizzie process things is almost as intriguing as the mystery at hand.
Abbot isn’t afraid to touch on some really dark stuff. She handles a looming, sinister sexuality between an adult male and adolescent girl with chilling care. It’s a treatment that I can’t help to compare with Lolita. Nabokov created one of the English language’s strongest narrators in Humbert Humbert. And while Abbot’s book can’t quite reach that, she certainly gets an A for effort. Her uses of plot and convention, as with her blending of genres, makes for a unique and haunting book. The End of Everything is worth your time.
Similar Reads: The Lovely Bones (Sebold), Housekeeping (Robinson), Lolita (Nabokov).
[A review copy was provided.]