Megan Abbott's THE END OF EVERYTHING: The Ashes of Childhood

The memory of adolescence is a combination of specific and universal details.  I was 13 in the summer of 1976, growing up in a small suburban town on Long Island.  While my parents asssumed I was listening to soft pop groups like The Captain and Tenille and The Carpenters,  I secretly had my radio tuned very low  to WNEW, the hard rock station.  My favorite tv show long had been “Little House on the Prairie,” but now I preferred “Starsky & Hutch.”   I was infatuated with Paul Michael Glaser (“Starsky”), alighting from that red Ford Torino in his tight blue jeans.  My tastes were changing from those of a little girl to those of a young woman.  I spent most of my time reading.  Books served the dual purpose of being physical and social shields.  I could use a book to block any view of my suddenly enormous breasts.  And books were my companions, making up for the lack of a best friend.

In THE END OF EVERYTHING Megan Abbott’s depiction of being a 13-year-old girl in a Midwestern suburb in the 1980s is pitch-perfect.  Abbott creates a very particular world for  Lizzie Hood, the narrator, but one which has nothing to do with historical or pop culture signposts.  While this world may seem very ordinary, Abbott manages to throw the reader off tilt immediately, making the familiar seem exotic and even dangerous.

Lizzie cannot recall a time when she was not best friends with her next-door neighbor Evie Verver.  When younger,  they even bore a striking physical resemblance to one another, so close that they performed “Me and My Shadow” at their first tap recital.  The girls spend their summer days in the local pool, and, in the evenings, sit in a tent pitched in the Ververs’ backyard.

We shared everything, our tennis socks and stub erasers, our hair elastics and winter tights.  We were that close.  Sometimes we blinked in time.

Lizzie, whose own father divorced her mother and headed for California years ago, envies, even covets Evie’s father Mr. Verver.  He is handsome, charming, and charismatic and Lizzie, like most people, wants to bask in Mr. Verver’s glow.  By comparison, Mrs. (Annie) Verver is like a shadow, always fading into the background.  The other bright star of the Verver household is Evie’s older sister Dusty, the captain of the varsity field hockey team, a blonde sixteen-year-old goddess who seems to disdain the boys who worship her.  Lizzie and Evie spend a lot of time pondering what life is like on Planet Dusty.  They practice field hockey constantly, and each cut, scrape, bruise and scar  is like a badge of honor.  Nearing the end of middle school, Evie and Lizzie cannot wait for the autumn junior varsity try-outs.

Then the unimaginable occurs.  Evie disappears.   Abbott’s plot moves swiftly to this horrific event.  Lizzie’s world is alternately shattered and greatly improved.  Her body aches, as if she were missing a limb.  Yet, Evie Verver’s disappearance places Lizzie closer to Mr. Verver, who naturally is desperate to find his missing daughter.  Mrs. Verver spends most of her time in the upstairs bedroom, initially tranquilized and then numb with the grief and horror at what may have happened to Evie.  Lizzie wracks her brain for any minutia which might indicate where her best friend has vanished.  The smallest details begin to form a pattern and Lizzie trots next door to Mr. Verver like an obedient puppy. Although she is completely horrified about Evie being gone, Lizzie cannot help but have a crush on Mr. Verver.  She realizes how desperate she is for Mr. Verver’s attention–and so does his daughter Dusty.  While Dusty does not conceal her near contempt for Lizzie, Lizzie realizes Dusty is hiding something.   Lizzie, who thinks she has nothing to lose now that Evie is gone, continues to push hard to find out the truth, as if her life were a never-ending field hockey practice.

Megan Abbott’s gift for imagery is so great that I felt as though all of my senses were fully engaged.  I could smell the grass,  feel the humidity and  hear the particular background noises of a quiet suburban summer night.  I was thrown right back to the sense of body consciousness which first emerges when you are a young teen.   The plot inherently carries a tremendous element of suspense by asking the question, “What happened to Evie?”   Abbot has an expertise with honest dialogue and vivid characters.  She excels at creating small, intense, and raw scenes.   THE END OF EVERYTHING, dark, shocking and sensual, is a very literary suspense novel.  By story’s end, I realized that Abbott posits, and answers, a universal question for every 13-year-old girl:  Now that childhood is gone, what happens next?

▬ᴥ▬

The End of Everything
Megan Abbott
Reagan Arthur Books
ISBN-13: 978-0316097796

Leave a Reply