My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’m not a huge reader of short story collections so you’re not going to get an esoteric breakdown of the pieces in Jared Yates Sexton’s book An End To All Things, which takes its name from the last piece in the book.
Here’s what I can tell you: Sexton’s themes largely revolve around the slow death that comes from alcoholism, the wretched crush that comes from poverty, and the emptiness that comes with knowing you can’t do anything about either one of those things.
While there’s no obvious connection between the stories, structurally each picks at a single idea like hopelessness and follows it through a vignette. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading an Appalachian version of the play Our Town. Each of the stories felt like another member of an unnamed community stepping forward to tell his (and they are largely his) story about death, alcohol, and hopelessness. There was no social commentary or even outward awareness of those forces. Instead, Sexton just allowed his characters to exist.
If this sounds like a criticism, it’s not. I spent the first half of the book trying to stitch together the thematic elements and structure. I’m wary of those who use the rural-type setting as a character, but this collection felt more like the unnamed setting was the fabric that tied the people together.
That’s not to say there isn’t a feeling of redundancy. That’s to be expected considering the small number of thematic elements. It did make the book easy to read in small chunks, though, since I could quickly return to the world in which the stories took place.
An End to All Things isn’t light beach reading. Instead, it’s a window into a world where light doesn’t shine and darkness pushes down like an anchor.