The End is Where We Begin by Maria Goodin
Jay Lewis is struggling. In this intense novel of twists and turns memories come to the fore, causing some pain and confusion. On the positive side he is the single father of a reasonably well balanced teenager with a group of friends and some family who have formed a mutual support network. He works hard and achieves a reasonable standard of living. He struggles with relationships, but bringing up a son has given him a focus. He has hit a rough patch just now, when Josh is beginning to test boundaries. The memories of a life changing evening are coming back, and there is someone else from whom he wants forgiveness, and there are times when it is all a bit overwhelming. This complex book switches between memories and the present, as themes and images leap forward, as Jay struggles to come to terms with new realisations. Fortunately the author is able to balance them, give clues and elements that soon establish what is happening, where and when, and it becomes a compelling read. The dialogue between the characters is so well written, as teenage boys tease and gently torment each other as a group, as older people try to express their deepest feelings and their current issues, as a son and his father try to reshape their relationship. Jay knows he wants forgiveness for the evening that shaped his life, but also wants to find a woman whose love he has never forgotten. This is a perceptive and remarkable novel for its construction and audacity, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this contemporary novel of life and love.
The book begins with Jay hosting his son Josh’s fifteenth birthday party. As with any parent, despite the fact that Jay is a remarkably young father, he is a bit confused by the assembled group’s obsessions and references, but he is also overwhelmed by memories of his friendship group at the same age, when mentions of a knife had other connotations. His son and their group depart, but he is trying to cope with the vivid memories of an evening when “I remember it was my fault we were running late”, a time when his group were confronted with a terrible sight. His focus then sweeps to a memory of a first kiss, sweets and Libby, a girl who lived on a boat. The focus then goes to the birth of a baby and all the conflicting emotions that caused, of the news that he has a son. Throughout the book the focus switches, giving information to the reader so that they want to find out more. The presence of brilliant and troubled Michael, an older sister who seemed to want different things, a mother who tried to explain.
This writer shows a real skill at making the complex understandable, pressing the reader onwards to link up the disparate elements of the book. I think that Goodin manages it by focusing on Jay, keeping him as a constant throughout what could be a complicated narrative. I really enjoyed piecing together what happened, what he and others felt, how the various situations would resolve themselves. Using such techniques such as attempts at messages, honest and sometimes stumbling conversations, a limited but well described range of settings, this is a book of what feels like life. A truly involving read, this book is a reflection of one person’s struggles to come to terms with the past, cope with the present, and look, however hesitantly, to the future.