The End of Everything, Megan Abbott

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?

Other reviews:

Jenn’s Bookshelves
Nomad Reader
Chamber Four

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  • I haven’t read it (and probably won’t), but every now and then I will read a book which seems to indicate SOMETHING NOT RIGHT (ie, sexual abuse), but then the author shies away from it in the end. I feel like Robin McKinley wrote a short story like that, that I felt was sort of unfinished. And then she wrote Deerskin, which certainly laid it out there. So maybe Abbot just wasn’t ready to write the true story, and just stayed dancing around it. Because the daughter having a “weird sexual thing” for the father without sexual dysfunction (emanating from the adults) within the family certainly strains my credulity to the breaking point.

    • So yeah, I think that’s what maybe Megan Abbott did, shied away from it. Or maybe I misunderstood the whole thing, and the father really was supposed to be sexually abusing the girls. I felt the same you did, though, that if the author meant to indicate at the end that the father wasn’t abusing the girls, then the story was incredible. Properly, literally incredible. Or else just incomplete, and not away it was incomplete.

  • Interesting review, Jenny! It was interesting to read about what you thought was going on in the book, and what you felt the author thought. I loved your observation – “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.” I think it is a lesson in creative writing for would-be authors.

    • I feel like all of reading is a lesson in creative writing for would-be authors! When I was a little girl, I wrote to one of my favorite authors and asked her how to be a writer, and she said read, read, read, and pay attention to how the authors do what they’re doing. And that is totally exactly what I have done ever since.

  • hm, that’s just weird… If an author is trying to tackle a big issue like that, why wouldn’t they make it clearer? That seems kind of silly. It almost makes it sound like a wasted effort reading it if the ending goes off somewhere entirely different from the entire book.

    • The ending didn’t really go off in a different direction. I just didn’t understand the direction it went in. I couldn’t tell if it was meant to be an ambiguous ending or not. It was odd!

  • I haven’t read this book, but I probably would have gleaned the same things from it that you did. From the way you describe it, that is exactly what I would have thought. I doubt that you are wrong about it in this case. I also don’t like it when children and teenage characters seem to think like thirty year olds in miniature bodies, and it annoys me every time I come across it. This is a book that I am going to have to check out at some point, as now I am extremely curious about it!

    • I’ll be interested to see what you think about it! I felt like I didn’t understand it, so I want to see other people’s opinions on it.

  • I saw this as part of a really good offer in the bookstore just yesterday, but decided to pass it up. And now I’m congratulating me for making a good call. If you have Big Things in the story like disappearance and sexual abuse, there has to be a Big Resolution in which all becomes clear. That mimsy (not at all to be confused with mumsy) tripping around in ambiguity is not a suitable ending.

    • I really looooove ambiguity in endings but — and this is a distinction I don’t think I’ve had to articulate before — I want them to be directed. I felt less like Megan Abbott was saying “I’m not wrapping things up in a neat bow for you” (which I like in an ending!) and more like “I don’t know what’s going on” (which feels like anarchy). :p

  • I have never heard of this book, but what you say about the writing style seems very familiar to me, because I’ve discovered that I’m very sensitive to writing that is so transparently trying to be beautiful and meaningful. I don’t like it.

    • I don’t either. It’s a thin line, though, I think, because it’s so incredibly easy for beautiful writing to become mannered. Poor writers, it must be tough for them.

  • David

    I think I’d have to side with your book club.

    (Spoilers abound from here)

    What I pulled from it was that Dusty had some sort of feelings beyond the bounds of a normal father-daughter relationship, but the father wasn’t inappropriate in his actions. Rather, Evie (incorrectly) interpreted their relationship as such and became jealous of the attention, thus willingly leaving town with creepy Mr. Whatshisname.

    I was all ready throughout for the typical revelation of the sexually abusive father as it seemed there was plenty of foreshadowing towards that, so it was interesting to see a subversion of that trope.

    As for the mature narration, I think Evie is supposed to be much older when she’s telling the story? That’s what was in my head as I read it, anyway.

    • David

      Sorry, I meant to write “Lizzie is supposed to be much older…” in the last paragraph

    • Well, the reason I find what you’re saying very difficult to believe is that the sisters are both weirdly sexualized, and that the father is weirdly sexual in relation to them (and to Lizzie). The scene at the end where Dusty’s father is running his hand up and down her stomach when she’s in her bikini seems difficult to explain away.

  • I didn’t think the father’s behavior was normal – I do think he was inappropriate in the conversations he had with Dusty re: dating and boys but I do not think he crossed the line with the girls physically. Maybe the author was ambiguous so that readers could draw their own conclusions about what really happened?

    • You didn’t think it was inappropriate, the part at the end? That very last memory that Lizzie dredges up? I thought that was physically very very inappropriate indeed.

  • Sounds like an interesting read and a very unusual ending. Great review though!

    Wanted to also stop by and say Congratulations on your BBAW Short List nomination today! Yay! 🙂

    • Oh, thank you! You are so kind! 🙂

  • Chloe

    I have just I finished reading this book and this is what I thought of it. The girls Dusty and Evie clearly have feelings for their father that pushes the boundaries of a father and daughter relationship. They therefore fight for his attention and as Dusty is the winner this means Evie is pushed out, resulting in her looking elsewhere for the attention and running off with Mr Shaw. Lizzie clearly fancies Mr Verver however I feel her feelings stem from her own father leaving and seeing how good he is with Dusty. There are hints throughout the book that Mr Verver may go beyond the limits of the relationship between himself and Lizzie but this is meant to be viewed as an exaggeration in the 13 year olds mind. In the last paragraph I gathered that Lizzie suddenly realises that the father daughter relationship she has been so jealous of is more than it should be and that Mr Verver has taken his relationship with the girls too far. This therefore explains why Mrs Verver is so withdrawn from him. I don’t believe that it was meant to be clear throughout the book that he was abusing his girls and in fact that this is meant to be a painful twist at the end! After all the little hints throughout the book it’s kind of like this is evidence that it has happened! I don’t want to believe that he is like that though, and that is what makes the twist stay with you! This to me explains Evies relaxed nature to leaving with another older man and granting Mr Shaw the permission. I thought this was a good book and I genuinely didn’t know how it was going to end. However I think some of the sexual themes in the book were a bit inappropriate especially as the characters were meant to be 13! I feel basing the story on older girls would have been less sickening and a bit easier to read! 

  • Brandy

    I took the ending as Dusty was being abused by the father, and Evie envied that relationship, being close and loved and cherished by a grown man, which is why she went for Mr Shaw. Honestly I suspected it at the beginning of the book, and then was like no, then had it thrown at me at the end. Sucks that the cat wasn’t let out of the bag and the dad arrested… I like things to end right.

  • Kate Burnett

    Jenny, I completely agree with your review. I googled the subject hoping that I had somehow missed something and that someone could answer my questions for me. I just finished reading this book and felt cheated out of the few hours I had spent on it. First of all I didn’t like the style, the short snappy sentences were trying to be edgy but they didn’t quite have the impact intended. In my personal opinion the writing was lazy in that the Author was constantly willing for the reader to make up their own mind. When she was “reaching for something” in her mind all the time, was that the final scene? because to me that was repeated over and over but not quite answered. Maybe I’m just annoyed that I didn’t get what I wanted from the story. If the aim of the book was to spark debate and interest, well she certainly achieved that.

  • Archana Pai Kulkarni

    Oh, I think so too, that the father abused not just Dusty but probably Evie too, and was grooming wide-eyed Lizzie, who has a crush on him, for similar abuse. I’m not sure whether Mr Verver went all the way or just crossed the line of fatherly appropriateness to a considerable extent. Lizzie’s mother’s comment about something not being quite right with the Ververs is potent. As also Evie’s confiding in Lizzie that though the father is pleased that she’s back, he must be thinking that something’s changed in her, is not the same as before (so does he detest the fact that another man has been as close to his daughter as he has or could have been? Does it hurt his male ego that his daughter chose to go away from him and into the arms of another older man and he finds her unfit after the violation for his own attention?) Is that why Evie apologises to her father? Does she worry that Dusty will still have the upper hand now? I wonder. There is certainly an undercurrent of sexual abuse and incest throughout though one cannot say that with certainty as the author has, I think, deliberately left it open-ended. As for Lizzie displaying a maturity beyond her age, I don’t find it surprising. Though she’s an exception, there are girls, who grow up before their prime, due to circumstances that force them to or because they are born with a certain wisdom that is uncommon. This is a very cleverly written book that keeps you guessing, that makes you want to hope that things are not as sinister or abusive as they seem to be but leaving enough room to keep you wondering whether you are right or wrong. Fact and fiction merge into each other in too many places. Only the writer can throw some light on this, I guess.

    • I think I had the same impression of the book that you did. But I have a suspicious mind, so I wasn’t sure if my view was biased. :p

  • S

    I agree with you. The whole book seemed to indicate Dusty had been sexually abused, and Evie wanted to escape that. It seems Lizzie wanted Mr. Verver and he almost crossed a line with her, too; I definitely think he was grooming her and she was welcoming it. I think Evie wanting to leave and Mrs. Verver becoming so quiet and mousy also point toward the father abusing Dusty.

  • DDC

    Just finished Abbot’s new book, Dare Me. Enjoyable read but a little unclear at the end too. The high school cheerleaders seem, and speak, wise beyond their years but that’s really a minor quibble. More problematic for me (SPOILER!) was our narrator never pays the price for her actions on the big night. Also, there’s mention of a security camera, then we never hear about it again. This camera could have given a lot of plot away, and the author should have never mentioned it, or said it was broken later. The melodrama at the end concerning a main character is over the top and hard to believe. But I’d recommend the book, no doubt. Good noirish crime that wraps up, if not completely with regard to plot, more than adequately with regard to the several interesting characters involved. Plus you get the skinny on some badass cheerleaders and their athletic and risky routines. Guys like me are now watching them for their bravery — or at least we can tell ourselves that.

  • Waz

    A lot of comments here on how the author should have been more definitive on the core subjects.

    I disagree, the story is told from the point of view of someone close to the family, but not actually in the family. It’s that broken perspective that makes this so interesting, otherwise she could have regularly jumped to a Verner family memebers narrative.

    Whatever an outsider thinks they know about the goings on within any given family on any given street, the reality could be very different.

  • Sue

    My feeling is that nothing has happened between Dusty and the father, but that’s not exactly right either. I think it’s pretty clear that Dusty has some highly sexualized feeling for her father (*shudder*) and that a lot of that, if not all, can be laid at the father’s feet. Talking about treasure trails to your teenaged daughter? Flirting with both the girls the way he did? So completely inappropriate.

    That said, I found the whole thing completely disturbing. Not only was there this near incestuous relationship (with the mother pretty clearly aware something is wrong, right?), there’s the way Dusty perceived her sister as a romantic rival for their father’s attention. So much so that when Evie and Dusty had that final, terrible fight, Dusty almost killed her because she did not want to face her own longings nor the fact that it was unattainable and wrong. Just as disturbing was the kid who knew all about snuff films. At 13/14!

  • Auburn S.

    I would characterize Mr. Verver’s relationship with his daughter as EMOTIONAL incest with no physical boundaries crossed. Evie longs for an intense relationship of her own and ends up brutalized by a darker version of what her father is. Lizzie is fatherless and, like Evie, envies and is fascinated by the energy that exists between Dusty and Mr. Verver.

    Lizzie will have a chance at something more wholesome, I think, with her stepfather-to-be Dr. Aiken.

    It is important to note how much stock Dusty puts in her father’s words, “I’ll always be your first.” She thinks she is the only one, but she is not. He said the same thing to Lizzie. This is the sort of thing an older person says to a virgin who has just given it up for the first time.

    I had heavy duty crushes at thirteen on grown men teachers who weren’t at all attractive. I completely relate to the hidden sexuality of these girls and their ignorance/innocence about what it could really cost. The fact that Evie colludes with the rapist and protects his feelings speaks volumes to a reality I’ve never heard so elegantly exposed– In the end, all three girls collude with each other to protect the feelings of the inappropriate Mr. Verver. They are all hostages, sacrificing themselves to protect a man they believe they need in order to be fully alive and loved.

    Thankfully Lizzie has her OWN family which might include a healthier dynamic. And she has held her own.

  • Phoebe

    WOw! I, like many other commenters, just finished reading this book and had to immediately google the plot and others opinions as the ending left me frustrated and unsatisfied. WHAT!?! Mr. Verver’s relationship with his daughters and Lizzie was NOT normal. I was really grossed out the entire book with Mr. Verver’s inappropriateness with his daughters and with Lizzie. His conversation topics, commentary, and lewdness are such red flags to grooming behavior and sexual abuse (I’ve worked with the dep’t of family and child services). And it is totally normal for the child (ren) to want to protect the adult, as they trust them and love them, and their behavior is normalized to them. I think that both sisters in this book are doing this…kind of like blood is thicker than water. I can’t believe Mrs. Verver never does/says anything…once again protecting those you love in your family, even though it is so wrong. I think that Evie’s easy going nature with Mr. Shaw, and her ability to not be shocked by his behavior and “let” him have sexual relations is a direct result of how her father has influenced her about boys, men, sex, and pleasing others. What a disturbing book! It was quite a page turner…I was up until 3:00 am until I finished it. These girls are experiencing puberty and exploring sexuality which is normal at that age. What is NOT normal is having extreme influences (verbal or physical) like Mr. Shaw and Mr. Verver (daddy figure)…this is very toxic, as these men set the stage for certain expectations, what the girls will think are societal norms, confidence, self worth, image, etc. Scary, and a good reminder that sexual abuse happens way more often then any of us would like to think, and it is most likely to happen within close families and friends which is icky. Here is an interesting resource to spread awareness.
    I also agree with you that Lizzie seemed much older than 13. A traumatic experience such as what happened to Lizzie will make her jaded but man she really had some eloquent language and ideations. Thanks for the post.