The End of the World As We Know It by Robert Goolrick

Mikita Brottman

But while I enjoyed the book and found it engaging, I can't say my "heart was changed" by it, whatever that means.

The End of the World As We Know It

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Subtitle: Scenes from a Life
Author: Robert Goolrick
Price: $22.95
Length: 224
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 1565124812
US publication date: 2007-04
UK publication date: 2007-04

Like most books about unhappy children in dysfunctional families, The End of the World as we Know It is difficult to put down. In this case, it's not so much that you can't wait to find out what happened next -- it's clear from pretty early on there's not going to be any great payoff -- but because you get so deeply absorbed in the details of everyday family life. Each chapter is set at a different time period, so the notion of cause and effect can be confusing, but perhaps that's part of the point. The book opens with Goolrick as an adult, caring for his dying father (his mother, we learn, has died six years earlier). Adult memories like these are juxtaposed with scenes recalled from a child's point of view, when Goolrick's parents seemed impossibly beautiful and glamorous, despite the fact they were actually drunk and poor.

Goolrick's sad story is told in a simple but vivid style full of short, single-clause sentences -- an effective way of conveying the immediate details of a closely observed life. On the morning when Goolrick is first abused by his father, for example, after experiencing a vivid dream, he says: "I woke up and I was in the bed where I had started. There were grownups snoring softly in the room. The room smelled like liquor and night sweat. It was getting light out. The birds were beginning to sing."

The End of the World as we Know It has received a lot of publicity; critics and reviewers have covered it in superlative praise, and the cover is laden with accolades from fellow memoir-writers. For example, Amanda Stern, author of The Long Haul, writes of Goolrick that "Through gorgeous prose, he gradually discloses layer upon layer of deplorable abuse, and as the coating underneath becomes exposed, so too does an exquisitely sensitive soul, whose self-awareness is so uniquely well articulated, it would shock me if the reader's heart went unchanged."

I can't help finding such over-the-top statements off-putting. Such is the nature of the book business, I suppose; products have to be advertised. But while I enjoyed the book and found it engaging, I can't say my "heart was changed" by it, whatever that means. Without wanting to seem too cynical, I wonder -- isn't it enough for someone to tell the story of their childhood in an engaging way? Must it also "move our hearts"? After all, Goolrick's childhood was not so different from many others. His parents were drunk, repressive, and abusive -- as many parents are. What is unique about the story, perhaps, is that the author waited so long to tell it -- or to tell any story, for that matter. Goolrick, who worked as a senior vice president in an advertising corporation in New York for many years, is now in his 50s. Perhaps a more ambitious writer (or a career writer) would have written this memoir earlier, but that would have been a mistake. The book certainly benefits from the perspective of time and distance, except in the last chapter, where the normally restrained prose becomes overwrought and vindictive. Here, Goolrick explains, he is telling his story "for the fathers. The priests. The football coaches. The Boy Scout counselors. The lonely men in secret basements. Murderers."

This last chapter raises some interesting questions -- at least, it did for me. Why, for example, do some people seem to recover so easily from child abuse that they barely even remember it, whereas in cases like Goolrick's, their lives are ruined from that moment on (in this case, the age of four years and two months)? Why can some of us smoothly separate ourselves from our families as soon as we realize how toxic they are, while some of us remain bound up in our childhood horrors long after our parents are in the grave?

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.