The End of Everything★★★★
Reagan Arthur Books, 2011
Can you remember the first time you ever had the wind knocked out of you? I was about ten. I was playing with my cousins out in their front yard. There was this fence that ran about 2 feet off the ground that we liked to walk along, imagining tight ropes and balance beams. It was during one of these wobbly walks when my ten year old body lost its balance and I came crashing down hard upon that low fence. It caught me right across my stomach where my diaphragm lives.
In a swift “whoosh” all the air was pushed out of my lungs. Every bit of it, or it seemed so at the time. I fell over onto the ground curled protectively around myself. In a blinding moment of sheer panic that exploded into terror, I found I couldn’t actually catch my breath. As hard as I tried, I could not breathe in and in those few seconds of sickening realization, I was sure I was going to die. It’s one of the clearest childhood memories I have.
Reading Megan Abbott’s version of a coming-of-age tale shot through with dark secrets and unbidden impulses is like getting the wind knocked out of you for the first time. It’s sudden, inexplicable, frightening and leaves you breathless. When it’s all over and done with, you feel a little nauseous, a lot bruised and newly wary of the world surrounding you. It’s as if your senses have been heightened, and a forbidden knowledge passed onto you that you don’t ever remember asking for, or wanting.
The End of Everything is a story about that tender, delicate, powerful place girls find themselves in before they become women, when they cling to each other like life support systems, sharing breaths, secrets, curiosity and hormones. Hug your daughters close, because I did not need Megan Abbott to grip me by the throat and show me that when our girls are laughing the hardest, and tumbling cartwheels in the sunshine, that is when they are at their most vulnerable. How they yearn for what they cannot name and do not understand, moving towards it like moths to flames, ignorant to the perils, to how much something can burn and leave scars. Thirteen-year-old Lizzie is our narrator, which makes for a brilliant choice. We see events from her innocent eyes and as she is thinking one thing, we are thinking something else.
This is a sad story, and it is a difficult read. There are many times where you will feel deeply uncomfortable. There are truths here that we do not want to know, do not want to ponder, and for some readers, truths they will not want to remember. But it is also a beautifully constructed piece of prose and if I wasn’t a fan of Megan Abbott before now, this novel has clinched it.
To my ridiculous delight, I also just recently found out Ms. Abbott is married to Joshua Gaylord (a.k.a Alden Bell) author of one of my Desert Island books The Reapers Are The Angels (see previous post Literary zombies is not an oxymoron). You can find out more about Megan Abbot at her website, or by following her on Twitter (@meganeabbott)