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Monday, September 19, 2011

The End of the World by Andrew Biss

I was fortunate enough to win a copy of Andrew Biss's The Impressionists, a collection of vignettes, all told in the first person, of normal people with sometimes extraordinary challenges. I recognized a fun authorial voice, so when The Impressionists left me wanting more, I went ahead and invested in The End of the World.  

Intentionally absurd from the first word, The End of the World tells the story of what happens to a truly unremarkable man between his drollery-filled, circumscribed life with his parents and his next incarnation. The narrator isn't quite self-aware enough to know that the result of a barely registered mugging is his own death. Suddenly, a sort of halfway house hotel called The End of the World becomes visible amidst the grimy cityscape, and he walks right in.

The characters he meets at this hostel for souls in limbo or, to use the Tibetan term, Bardo, (most of whom emerge from kitchen appliances or have body parts missing) all impart a point of view of their universal situation that the narrator had never considered before, which is all the more interesting because in the end, it is revealed that they're mere figments of his imagination. In this eerily detailed place, the narrator learns to accept and maybe even enjoy the lack of control. Philosophical arguments are hidden in strangely beautiful nuggets that the reader will enjoy swallowing and perhaps even wish, again, that there was a bit more to the story.

I didn't even realize The End of the World was pushing a message until the very last line, which felt so deliciously appropriate that I couldn't help loving the whole short, lopsided, cheeky book.