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.
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).
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
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