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Book Review: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

Title: The End of Everything

Author: Megan Abbott

Genre: Crime/Literary Thriller

Publisher:Reagan Arthur Books (US) / Picador (UK)
Publication date: July 7 2011 (US) / August 19 2011 (UK)
Hardcover/Paperback: 304 pages

Thirteen-year old Lizzie Hood and her next door neighbor Evie Verver are inseparable. They are best friends who swap bathing suits and field-hockey sticks, and share everything that’s happened to them. Together they live in the shadow of Evie’s glamorous older sister Dusty, who provides a window on the exotic, intoxicating possibilities of their own teenage horizons. To Lizzie, the Verver household, presided over by Evie’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 Midwestern suburban community, everyone looks to Lizzie for answers. Was Evie unhappy, troubled, upset? Had she mentioned being followed? Would she have gotten into the car of a stranger?

Lizzie takes up her own furtive pursuit of the truth, prowling nights 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 at the center of the disappearance, Lizzie uncovers secrets and lies that make her wonder if she knew her best friend at all.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: I got an ARC at BEA

Why did I read this book: Last Sunday, I was sitting around the house and realised I was in the mood for a thriller/mystery. This seemed just like the thing.

Review:

Warning! This review contains spoilers!

13-year-olds Lizzie and Evie are next-door neighbours who have been friends their whole lives and are so close, they have no secrets and sometimes they can’t even tell their memories apart. Lizzie, the narrator of this story, is fascinated by Evie’s seemingly perfect family, especially her glamorous older sister Dusty, a beautiful boy-magnet girl and accomplished sportswoman and above all their father, Mr. Verver, a cool and approachable man, the king of the beautiful Verver kingdom. Lizzie’s own family is in disarray, ever since her parents’ divorce, with her mother striking up a relationship with a married man.

Then one day, on the way home from school, Evie disappears. The police and her family are desperate for clues and Lizzie feels something nagging at the back of her mind until she remembers….she remembers a maroon car that had been following them and a whispered conversation with Evie about someone who had been watching her from outside her window, and the cigarette stubs found there prove to be an inestimable clue to the police. It soon becomes clear that Evie has been taken by Mr. Shaw, a married, older man who had been observing her for a while.

In the ensuing days, as she tries to make sense of what is happening, Lizzie searches for more clues about the disappearance and becomes not only the centre of the investigation but also the centre of the Ververs’ Kingdom – as Mr Verver finally gives her all the attention she ever wanted.

I devoured this book in one sitting and it was definitely engaging and intriguing but also extremely disturbing and unsettling. I am in fact, fascinated by The End of Everything and I have been thinking about the book and trying to digest everything I read for the past few days.

First of all, it soon becomes clear that the story is less about the crime itself (Evie’s disappearance) and more about the people that it affects: from Mr. Shaw’s family, left behind to deal with the repercussions of what he has done, to Evie’s own family and above all, Lizzie, her best friend. This is clear in the way that the story progresses really slowly, with Lizzie’s observing everything around her and effectively acting to bring her friend back in one piece. Throughout the story she is adamant that Evie is alive and well and that Mr Shaw has been moved to act by a love that is pure and is taking good care of Evie (isn’t he?).

Because of all that, Lizzie’s narrative is both genius and problematic.

She is the typical 13-year-old on the brink of maturing emotionally and sexually but not quite there yet. Her thoughts are naïve and even romantic. She thinks of Mr Shaw as a knight in shining armour, so in love with Evie that he couldn’t control herself and believes Evie is lucky to be so loved by an older, experienced man. This is obviously extremely unsettling because the reader….the reader knows that this story is anything but a love story. And this is the brilliance behind this narrative choice: Lizzie is an unreliable narrator. Not only because of her age, her naivety and what she doesn’t understand but also because she doesn’t realise how much of her own inner thoughts and secrets seeps into the telling of this story. There is definitely an element of projection there as it is clear that Lizzie has these feelings for an older man herself: Evie’ dad. If at first it seems that he is a role model and a father figure to replace her own father it soon becomes clear that there is something else going on. It is a mixture of wanting to be the centre of attention, period and wanting to be the centre of his attention.

This also sheds some light in how interchangeable the two girls seem to be. Lizzie says they share everything, Lizzie says they have no secrets, they want the same things. Lizzie’s memories are sometimes, Evie’s and Lizzie’s scars are not her own. At one point, Lizzie seems to be saying, for all intents and purposes: here, you lost her, you can have me instead. But can she replace her friend? Is that what she really wants? Is this interchangeability even real? The psychology behind it all is very fascinating and perhaps what kept me glued to the pages.

At the same time there are obvious problems with this narrative choice as well. First of all, the writing. It is really good but at odds with what is supposed to be the age of the narrator. The voice is much more mature than Lizzie is supposed to be and at times this took me right off the story. But I think that what discomfited me the most and makes me wonder is how, because the story is narrated by a naïve, 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.

However I do wonder if those choices of narrator and setting aren’t simply a contrived way to provoke and shock? It works…definitely, but to what purpose? Aren’t you sick and tired of reading “fascinating insights” into the “minds of teenagers” and “observations of secretive small town in Anywhere-America” that are invariably grim and dark just so they can be?

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.

The End of Everything is dark, disturbing and affecting and I remain undecided as to how I feel about it. I am undecided between singing its praises (good book, well written, provides food for thought) and wanting to throw it against a wall (oh, please Lord of the Books, save me from all this doom and gloom and also from potentially problematic depiction of women, amen).

Notable quotes/parts:

She, light-streaky out of the corner of my eye. It’s that game, the one called Bloody Murder, the name itself sending tingly 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.

Voices pitchy, giddy, raving, we are all chanting that deathly chant that twists, knifelike, in the ear of the appointed victim. One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock, four o’clock, five o’clock…And it’s Evie, she’s it, lost at choosies, and now it will be her doom. But she’s a good hider, the best I’ve ever seen, and I predict wild surprises, expect to find her rolled under a saggy front porch or buried under three inches of dirt in Mom’s own frilly flower bed.

Six o’clock, seven o’clock, eight o’clock, nine o’clock, the cruel death trill we intone, such monsters we, ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock, MIDNIGHT! Bloody murder! We all scream, our voices cruel and insane, and we scatter fast, like fireflies all a-spread.

I love the sound of our Keds slamming on the asphalt, the poured concrete. There are five, maybe ten of us, and we’re all playing, and the streetlamps promise safety, but for how long?

Oh, Evie, I see you there, twenty yards ahead, your peach terry cloth shorts twitching as you run so fast, as you whip your head around, that dark curtain of hair tugging in your mouth, open, shouting, screaming even. It’s a game of horrors and it’s the thing pounding in my chest, I can’t stop it. I see you, Evie, you’re just a few feet from the Faheys’ chimney, from home base.

Oh, it’s the greatest game of all and Evie is sure to win. You might make it, Evie, you might. My heart is bursting, it’s bursting.

Rating: I have no idea how to rate this. It is a good book, with positive things but ultimately it is not the sort of book that I, personally, care to read.

Reading next: Misfit by Jon Skovron

 

Buy the Book:


Ebook available for kindle, kindle UK nook, and sony

14 Comments

  • The Book Memoirs (Elle)
    July 20, 2011 at 3:30 am

    *takes a deep breath*

    READ WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT, READ WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT.

    Contemporary fiction, a wonderful portrayal of grief with a realistically uplifting ending (aka the world must go on), an excellent, quiet, realistic glimpse into the abuse of women, a wonderful inverse of Manic Pixie Girl and a tiny, tiny drop of magical realism that is so tiny that you’d miss it if you blinked (but is the most inventive explanation of everyday creepy coincidences I’ve seen yet).

    READITREADITREADIT.

    It’s honestly my favourite book of the year and I think it could easily solve some of your issues with this one. – Elle

  • Paige
    July 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    I so agree. I just finished this on Monday night, and it drove me nuts. I thought it was amazingly written, but somewhere midway through it became a story-art piece about a pervasively predatory atmosphere.

    I know that Abbott writes a gynocentric noir series set in the 1920’s through 1940’s — I’m going to check it out, and maybe it’ll be less disturbing in that I expect darkness in noir? Or maybe not.

  • Cass
    July 21, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    This book sounds a lot like Sue Miller’s Lost In the Forest, which features a troubled teenager who is enticed into a very problematic/disturbing sexual relationship with an older, married man. I had a similar reaction to that book as you’ve had to The End of Everything…and I’m definitely with you on the “not the kind of book I care to read” feeling you had.

  • Agatha
    July 28, 2011 at 9:55 am

    That\’s the best asnewr of all time! JMHO

  • Katie
    August 19, 2011 at 7:51 am

    I was thirteen in 1987, my parents were divorced, I’m white, and I grew up in the suburb’s, with a best friend who I adored — and I could not relate to the girls in this book. The 1980’s, were not the 1950’s, we were well-schooled in the whole “don’t talk to strangers” thing, and while I don’t recollect having a talk with my parents regarding inappropriate touching by a relative, I knew it existed. I don’t know what the author was trying to do, but the decade is not a good excuse for the female responses – the characters have to earn the response through development. Did they? I quit around the 70 page mark. I like mysteries, and I like edge, but I don’t like to read many sexual abuse stories and I keep stumbling into them. I’ll read one if it spares the details, captivates me with its’ prose, and sends a believable, glimmer of hope, message. This was too grim. The writing was tight, but unbelievable as the voice of a 13 year old. I could feel the darkness coming off of the page. I didn’t want to stay on that path. Thanks for your insightful review – well done! 😉

  • Anonymous
    November 6, 2011 at 11:27 am

    this i realllly long… im really curious is evie ever found and is it really mr shaw? dont tell me to go and read the book i have no timme!

  • Anonymous
    November 6, 2011 at 11:47 am

    WHAT HAPPENS TO EVIE!?!

  • Review: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott | Reactions to Reading
    November 30, 2011 at 2:15 am

    […] been reviewed all over the place but I’ve linked to ones that provide some range of views: Book Smugglers (warning there are a few spoilers here but it’s a good review which raises some interesting […]

  • patriclea
    February 13, 2012 at 9:58 am

    This book is unique in that it doesn’t just deal with the impact of a young girl’s abduction, it dares to look closely at some of the elements that may have contributed to her vulnerabilty. Clearly Dusty’s relationship with her father is emotionally incestous. Whether or not it is physically so, doesn’t really matter. She is fulfilling the role of his partner, a role he falls upon Lizzie with once Evie disappears. The mother has been completely ‘de-sexed” which is often what happens in incestous families. The victim functions as the perpetrator’s spouse. Dusty and her father share things that are not teenage father/daughter material. And Evie and Lizzie envy that closeness. Evie’s budding sexuality and confusion about relationships makes her vulnerable to confusing a predator’s interest with normal attention. there are hints that she may have said something to her sister about it or that Dusty may have guessed Evie had an older admirer. It has been modeled to the young girls as normal. How would Lizzie know differently? The vacuum left by her own parents divorce leaves her unusually vulnerable. Her insistence on trying to romaticize Shaw’s feelings for Evie mirrors her illusions about Mr. Verver. Both Lizzie and Evie in their vulnerable age are lost trying to figure out what they are supposed want and have no defense against the predatory urges of the men who exploit them

  • Anonymous
    March 25, 2012 at 11:39 am

    🙄 So I finished reading this book. While reading, halfway through the book it was well written, not that bad. But, the last half really gets to you, like, “how could a girl think this way, especially at her age?” It really ‘messes’ with you. 😐

  • Anonymous
    October 10, 2014 at 11:14 am

    I found this book rather disturbing. It was well written but certainly not consistent with the narrator being a 13 year old girl. What I object to the most is that many teenagers read this book and might not have the emotional maturity or intelligence to understand that the feelings these girls have are inappropriate and unhealthy. The undercurrents are visible to adults but this book could be misunderstood by young people. There is no defining point in which any of the female characters realize how unhealthy their feelings are.

  • Felicia
    November 18, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    I know I’m late to the part, but I agree with Katie. I was in my early teens in the late 80s in the suburbs, and I couldn’t relate at all. I get that many writers feel compelled to show the dark underbelly of growing up in American suburbia, because it was supposed to be so safe and wholesome. I know that dark underbelly DID exist, but it does seem like the writers often go to extremes to show it and to be “edgy”.

  • Anonymous
    February 27, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    you are ugly. are

  • Anonymous
    February 24, 2018 at 6:15 am

    I was 13 when my grandmother got me this book as a gift for my birthday without knowing what really happens in the book. She thought it was a story about growing up and friendship. She was so wrong and I didn’t start reading this book until I was 15 almost 16 because I couldn’t really comprehend what was actually happening. I read it in one day and there were just too many times when I thought “Why would a young girl think/act this way ?”. I think, since the story focuses more on the relationships than the abduction, it could’ve been longer. I think that there is missing a lot of background information about why the characters say certain things or act so weird. Dusty seems unbothered by the fact that her sister is missing. Why ? I would’ve gone crazy.

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