Tuesday, February 17, 2009
book review: the end, by salvatore scibona
One of five finalists for The 2008 National Book Award, The End is an impressive debut whose serpentine plot hovers around a single tumultuous moment during a Catholic street carnival held in an Italian-American enclave of 1953 Cleveland.  Amidst a backdrop of racial tensions, poverty and immigration, this pivotal moment ties together the beautifully developed characters who makes up this highly psychological drama:  There's Rocco, the town baker, who has just received word that his son has perished in a Korean POW camp;  Mrs. Marini, an elderly abortionist, who is looking for a protégé before she dies and thinks she has found one in Lina, a would-be spinster; and the story's antagonist - a jeweler - who is responsible for a large part of the novel's dread.   

In a book that often reads more like an epic lyric poem than a novel, Scibona's characters become the focus of a piece that is often more psychology than plot.  In The End, Scibona seems to be channeling heavyweight modernists such as James Joyce, William Faulkner and T.S. Eliot, so it should follow that his novel is dense, poetic, often awe-inspiring and frequently difficult.  

Ultimately, it's the author's sentences that become both his blessing and his curse.  The End is comprised of gorgeously opaque sentences like "If he could denude himself from his mineral self, leaving only caption, he would become at last translucent, transient, timeless," and "I was a fleeting thought the mind that the sea was might light upon and then forget." Scibona's writing is as breathtaking as it is obfuscatory, and, as such, it follows that The End is a novel that demands much of its reader and one that must be read slowly

Ultimately, I found The End to be a bit of an enigma.  Scibona's writing sparkled, his characters troubled, his story mystified, and he unapologetically tested me as a reader, just like the modernist authors he appeared to be channeling.  And as is the case with the work of Eliot and Faulkner, I must be honest and admit that I appreciate what he created more than I enjoyed it.

Salvatore Scibona
2008, 294 pages

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