Have you ever had the experience of reading a book and being sure throughout most of the book that you know what’s going on, and then you get to the end and you realize that you actually have no idea if you really know what the author is talking about? That was my experience with The End of Everything. As the denouement unfolded, I stopped saying “Yup, yup, yup, yup,” to imaginary Megan Abbott in my head and instead said, “Wait, what were you talking about?”
The End of Everything is about a thirteen-year-old girl called Lizzie whose best friend Evie disappears. On the way home from field hockey practice or something, a car pulls up, and Evie disappears into it, and then she’s gone. In her absence, Lizzie — whose own father left the family — grows close to Evie’s father as the two of them try to piece together what happened to Evie.
And now, spoilers. I guess. If it counts as spoilers when I do not feel satisfied that I know what the reader is supposed to understand from the final scenes of the book. I thought it was really obvious from the start but then when I got to the end of the book I couldn’t tell what Megan Abbott thought was going on. I know what I thought was going on in the book, which is that the father was sexually abusing Evie’s older sister and possibly Evie too, and was grooming Lizzie; and Evie ran away with a creepy guy in order to escape from that whole thing.
However, the ending kind of confused me; and when I went to book club, everyone else at book club thought that Evie’s sister just had a weird creepy crush on her father, and that the father’s relationship with the daughters was normal. I strenuously disagree with this, while also not being sure whether Megan Abbott agrees with me or with the rest of my book club. Basically everything in the book makes me think I am right except that the ending phrases things really strangely, and like — whatever, I don’t know.
Plot confusion aside (I am really pretty certain the father was sexually abusing the older sister), I wasn’t wild about the book as a whole. It felt very, very written, like consciously trying to be beautiful and impactful in its word choices and its stopping-and-starting sentence structures. The thirteen-year-old narrator made a lot of weirdly mature points — weirdly mature not in a precocious way, but in a way that implied long years of life experiences that she couldn’t possibly have had. Then as well, the book kept circling back around to hit the same emotional beats really hard again and again and again. Sometimes I like for a book to circle around one crucial moment, but the reason this works (when it works) is that each pass comes closer to the crucial thing, and gives a new piece of information, or a new shade of nuance. If you’re just going back a hundred times to “Evie and I were super close and it’s weird she didn’t tell me what was up”, I lose interest.
If you read this, what did you think? The father was sexually abusing the older sister, right? I mean — he was, right?
Tell me if I missed yours!