Thursday, 12 November 2009

World's End by T. Coraghessan Boyle

This expansive novel is a great demonstration of Boyle's literary prowess. Despite the fact that at times I found it hard to chew, World's End taught me lots of things, broadened my perspectives and took me to places in my thoughtscape I hadn't previously ventured. Spanning three historical eras in New York's Hudson Valley area, it tells a moving tale of family lost & found, consequences, history's relevance & the human need to act on beliefs.

Walter Van Brunt is a despondent kid looking for trouble; or at least his real father, a selfish traitor by all accounts and solely responsible for his mother's death. Walter's father, Truman, starts appearing to him in visions one fateful night which culminates in a motorbike accident. The accident sets Walter on a journey in search of truth – truth about his family, the past and himself. Along the way he meets Mardi Van Wart, a sexy, rebellious drifter, & her father Depeyster, a hugely rich businessman and conservative who knew Truman in the days before the catalytic 1949 riots.

In the late 1600s, the Van Brunts and the Van Warts were already involved in one another's lives – and in similar circumstances. Boyle evokes colonial New York with a master's skill. The farms, rolling hills, Indian tribes and sugarloaf hats of the Dutch settlers jump from the page into your mind's eye automatically; thus is the power of Boyle's command of language. He employs a playful exaggeration and cleverly constructed symbolism to demonstrate the extraordinary that can be found in the seemingly insignificant things.

While this novel is huge in that it spans generations, it doesn't spread its spindly fingers further than the grip of the few families involved in the story, and as such feels much more personal. I suppose you could even say it was a family saga of sorts, speckled with the odd curse, ghost or convenient coincidence. Labels aside, World's End is a compelling, tragic story unlike any I've read before which makes you question whether history is destined to repeat itself, or whether perhaps we have more choice in the matter. Is like father really like son?

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