Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The End Is Near (Harry Ramble)

Overall: 4.5
  • Plot: 4.5/5
  • Originality: 4.5/5
  • Language: 4.8/5
  • Believability:4/5
The End Is Near by Harry Ramble

On his forth-fifth birthday, as his hostages dozed fitfully and state police prepared to take him by force, Nathan Huffnagle penned nine last words into a journal recounting a remarkable week's worth of events. Then he placed the cold steel circle of a shotgun barrel beneath his chin, gripped the trigger, and pulled. And his life began again.

Nathan had hoped to pay back one injustice with another, and tip the scales back to even. But so few of us have a real talent for havoc and vengeance and violence. And our cherished grievances and justifications rarely match up so neatly with the realities of our lives. Now, frustrated at every turn and pestered by a series of seemingly angelic visitors, Nathan makes a hospital-bed deal with Death--the Big Guy himself. Will he receive the release he desires? Or a new lease on life?
Genre: General Fiction
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At the ripe middling age of forty-five, Nathan Huffnagle completed a body of work he termed to be his "suicide journal," and while his hostages slept on, he slid the muzzle of a rifle beneath his chin. Moments later, he pulled the trigger. To his dismay, instead of death, he was greeted by apparitions who pushed him to fill in the blanks that his journal left behind. Just who was Nathan Huffnagle, and why was he holding hostages in the stockroom of a small auto shop? Let us find out.

When I first read the summary for this novel, I expected a new-age tale about rebirth. (Blame the line, "And his life began again.") Instead I found an adventure of a different sort, one that took place mostly in the musings and limited actions of a character stuck on his deathbed, half of his face lost to intentional gunfire. Although heavier than I anticipated, the novel truly struck a chord as Nathan's struggles, both internal and external, revealed something critical about the human condition: its need to interpret and understand. From bullying to stalking to childish pranks, his experiences and choices seemed almost familiar—not because I like to indulge in a little B&E after work, mind you, but because his bewilderment, his pain, and later, his jadedness, came across as a natural progression. His feelings, in short, felt genuine, which makes all the difference when reading the written works of an author who occasionally waxes pontifical.

The book itself is a mishmash of suicide journal entries, present-day narrative, and penned "discussions" with the representatives of Death, as it were. Though initially confusing, I eventually grew accustomed to the shifts. Without the journal entries, present-day conversations would make little sense, and so the mixing of the two was a clever literary choice. In both cases, Ramble proves that his characters are able to get out of their own way in terms of word choice and the communication of ideas. The text gives a very clear sense of individual personalities, even if some of it made me question the sanity of the narrator. I'm certain that that was the point.

The End Is Near certainly isn't the first book to address deathbed discoveries and bargains with the so-called Grim Reaper, but it is well worth reading if you like characterization and that elusive sense of transformation that comes from completing a thoughtfully written work.

(Review copy provided by the author)

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