The Song: "(Don't go Back to) Rockville," R.E.M. Words & music written by R.E.M. (Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills & Michael Stipe). Track 5 of Eponymous, 1988.
When/how acquired: Purchased CD, c. 1991.
Yes, I know this track was originally on Reckoning; I don't own Reckoning. Sorry.
So I promised last week that I'd write about books this week, because I've gotten so far behind on my reading lists here. It's not that I haven't been reading; it's that I've been reading things for work, and reading things in bits and pieces, and reading works still in progress or at various stages pre-publication.
Of the finished books I've read this year, though, I've noticed a strange spike in stories about kidnappings. Joseph Finder's BURIED SECRETS is about a teenaged girl who's kidnapped and buried alive; Linwood Barclay's FEAR THE WORST is another story about a missing teenager, with his trademark revelations of shocking family secrets; Michelle Gagnon's KIDNAP AND RANSOM is an interesting look at the international paramilitary industry of kidnapping.
The most powerful kidnapping thriller I've read this year, though, is also the shortest: Megan Abbott's THE END OF EVERYTHING. (I almost used a line from that Chris Isaak song as today's lyric, but there isn't much to the song.) I've read the book twice now -- I needed to give myself a couple of weeks to digest it, then went back for a second look. If anything, it punched harder the second time around.
THE END OF EVERYTHING is set in a wealthy Michigan suburb, sometime in the 1980s (the book includes at least one anachronism, but it's a memory piece, verging on the surreal, so I didn't mind). It's narrated by Lizzie, who is 13 the summer her best friend Evie disappears. Lizzie and Evie are next-door neighbors; Lizzie's parents are divorcing, and she longs for a father like Evie's. The mystery of where Evie has gone, and with whom, is solved quickly enough. The book is more about why, and what happens to Lizzie and the others who are left behind.
Some of the published reviews of this book, while positive, have missed the point in quite a spectacular way. This is not a conventional thriller: it is almost an emotional autopsy, a fearless look at the violent boundaries of adolescence. Thirteen-year-old girls are chimeras, extraordinary creatures who are neither girls nor women, but both. It's a strange and dangerous time, and I'm not sure I've ever read a book that examines this as ruthlessly as THE END OF EVERYTHING does. When I finished it, I told Megan that I felt a little afraid of her. She took it as a compliment, which was my intention, but I wasn't kidding. We should all be a little afraid of anyone who sees the world this sharply, and isn't afraid to report what she sees.
I finished this book and wished that I belonged to a book group, so I had someone to discuss it with. I have discussed it, at length, with a couple of friends, and have not been surprised by how viscerally everyone seems to respond to it. It's made at least one of my friends downright angry, which I take as proof of the uncomfortable truths at its center. Exactly what those truths are I don't want to say, for fear of giving away too much of the story -- but if anyone wants to discuss the book in the comments section, go right ahead. Everybody else, skip the comments to avoid spoilers.