About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

#10: The End of Everything

The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott (New York: Little, Brown, & Co., 2011)

Summary:
"In a placid 1980s suburb in the Midwest, thirteen-year-old Lizzie and her next door neighbor Evie Verver are inseparable, best friends who swap bathing suits and field hockey sticks and between whom, presumably, there are no secrets. Together they live in the shadow of Evie's glamorous older sister Dusty, who provides them a window on the exotic, intoxicating possibilities on their on teenage horizons. To Lizzie, the Verver household, presided over by Lizzie's big-hearted father, is the world's most perfect place.

"And then, one afternoon, Evie disappears. The only clue: a maroon sedan Lizzie spotted driving past the two girls earlier in the day. As a rabid, giddy panic spreads through the balmy suburban community, everyone turns to Lizzie for answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car of a stranger? Would Evie have gotten into a car with a man?

"Compelled by curiosity and a desire to rescue the enchanted Verver household from ruin, Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth. Her days spent with a shell-shocked Mr. Verver, she devotes her nights to prowling through backyards, peering through windows, pushing herself to the dark center of Evie's world. Haunted by dreams of her lost friend and titillated by her own new power as the center of the disappearance, Lizzie uncovers secret after secret and begins to wonder if she knew anything about her best friend at all."


Opening Line:
"She, light-streaky out of the corner of my eye."

My Take:
I've sometimes said, upon finishing books by Chuck Palahniuk or even Joyce Carol Oates, that I feel like I need to take a shower afterwards. I don't know if The End of Everything is quite that bad, but I did feel just a little ... I dunno, just icky. Certainly young adolescents' burgeoning awareness of their own sexuality isn't a new theme, and Abbott's combining it with a kidnapping angle is an intriguing idea. But IMO, a little bit of the young girl/ older man thing goes a long way, and in that regard, I think Abbott way overdoes it. Having an Evie who, at some level, wanted a relationship with Mr. Shaw? A narrator who has just a bit of a crush on her best friend's dad? An older sister who's affectionate behavior with her own father is starting to look more than a little inappropriate? Any one, perhaps even two, of these threads might have worked, but all together, they're too much. I went hunting online to see if anyone else had a similar reaction, and found this review by Ana on The Book Smugglers, which captures my problems with this book far more clearly than I could have. She says, in part:
"But I think that what discomfited me the most and makes me wonder is how, because the story is narrated by a na├»ve, unreliable 13 year old in the 80s, certain things remain unnamed (the setting in the 80s is quite important I think, to explain the lack of awareness?) This story clearly presents a disturbing portrait of things that are not quite right, of things that people won’t talk about or even name. I have nothing against things being open for interpretation but I would argue that even despite the unreliability of this narrator, certain events such as: the culprit being driven by guilt and killing himself in the end; Lizzie’s mother cryptically saying that things are not quite healthy next door; Dusty having serious mental issues, leave no DOUBT in my mind on what we are talking about here: incest as well as paedophilia. And yet the “relationships” between the three girls and older men in this story are constantly framed with the words “love”, “pure” “falling in love or being loved by” older men.

"I keep going back and forth about this, wondering if the narrative (again, by Lizzie, a 13 year old girl) and the 80s setting (and the lack of awareness about these issues) are enough to account for how Lizzie interprets these events and therefore it is down to the reader to name things and point fingers? Not to mention that there are enough consequences to some of the people involved in these events (death, loss of innocence, etc) not to make it an issue of metatextual lack of acknowledgment of those issues. ...

Also one last question: isn’t it disturbing how basically all female characters including the teenagers in this book are either attracted to married men or to much older ones and they are all, to one extent or another, victims of/dependent on those men? Lizzie’s mother is a victim of a marriage gone bad and only starts to recover when she meets a new man (married); Lizzie is a victim of a broken home and the lack of a father and a victim of the bad influence of the next door neighbors; Evie and Dusty are victims of their father; Evie is a victim of Mr Shaw (and a willing one disturbingly so); Evie’s mother is a non-entity, a shadow of her husband and even Mrs Shaw who never shows up on page, willingly helps her husband when he is on the run because apparently she can’t control herself or pities him even though he seems to be the worst husband in the world (not to mention a sick pedophile). I mean, how messed up is that? It is worth noting though that maybe this is totally intentional and meant to be one of those searing looks at American Suburban Life in the 1980s with women in their dependent roles with the poor children in the middle of it all and I am being entirely too contemporary in my interrogation of the text.

"... It is a good book, with positive things but ultimately it is not the sort of book that I, personally, care to read."

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