The End of the Book
Publication Year: 2014
The End of the Book is the story of an aspiring contemporary novelist who may or may not be writing a sequel to Sherwood Anderson's classic Winesburg, Ohio. Adam Clary works in Chicago for a famous internet company on a massive project to digitize the world's books, but secretly he hates his job and wishes to be a writer at a time when the book as physical object and book culture itself have never been more threatened.
Counterpointing Adam's story is that of George Willard, the young protagonist of Anderson's book, who arrives in Chicago around 1900 when it was the fastest-growing city in American history. Through alternating chapters, we follow George's travails, including his marriage to the wealthy daughter of his boss, his affair with his hometown sweetheart, his artistic crisis, breakdown and flight, and along the way we see the echoes and intersections between his life and Adam's as they struggle in two similar Americas through two similar times in the life of the book.
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Series: Yellow Shoe Fiction
Praise, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
My father taught at four universities in four midwestern towns, had three sons by different wives, and wrote two books, one published forty years ago and the other, volume two of the definitive biography of a once-celebrated American writer, always on the verge of completion: next month, end of summer, nothing left but the index and a little fine-tuning...
Eight years ago George Willard came to Chicago green as a sprout, and now to his surprise, he had risen to near the top of the city’s leading ad agency. His campaigns had reached households across the land, and his large-windowed office on the fourteenth floor of the Monadnock Building...
He’d lost his house; his retirement plan brought in half of what it used to; he’d run his only credit card to the limit until he could no longer make mortgage payments; he had late fees, collection fees, his credit rating was nil; his pension and Social Security could cover rent, but what about debts...
George never did go back to work that Friday. Lazar’s request that he return soon because “I’ve been meaning to tell you something” faded into a quiet corner of his mind. At the jewelry counter he wasted little time choosing a one-and-a-half-carat Marquise ring with a brilliant diamond in the middle...
Everyone wanted to work for Imego. At the main campus in Silicon Valley, where Dhara and I went on business three times a year, employees had all the perks they could imagine: cafeterias serving gourmet meals; snack rooms stocked with fresh fruit, candy, protein drinks, and cappuccino...
Alfred J. Lazar did not approve of his daughter’s engagement, but she was headstrong and one of the few people over whom he exerted little control. It would soon become clear to George that she got what she wanted, and no amount of cajoling or threatening could distract her from her aims. Upon...
Dhara was not usually jealous. At work or at parties, she didn’t appear threatened by other women. Only people I knew from long ago caused her to act this way. It was as if our lives began when we met and we were only allowed to live for the future. Our building looked straight out of the Jetsons; we’d furnished our apartment with austere modern sofas and chairs...
On the afternoon following the anniversary dinner, George tried to clear his head of the specter of Helen White, but it begirded him like the thick summer heat, and instead of heading home after work he took the grip to the Theater District and found the host at Henrici’s. The slight, fastidious man...
I made a habit of bringing my father lunch, and throughout much of that winter could count on his being away until one o’clock. I’d arrive around noon, on my break, put his food in the fridge, have a sandwich at the kitchen counter, then poke around his apartment in search of the elusive...
The soap salesman, Richard Trumbull, had already walked into Hull House by the time George caught up. The sound of a violin playing a melancholy Chopin étude filled the large drawing room, and a greeter, a long-faced woman with hooded eyes, held a finger to her lips and whispered, ...
Ravenous Bookstore & Café sat at the end of a stretch of boutiques and restaurants on Armitage, the main shopping avenue in Lincoln Park. It was more café than bookstore, with a clutch of tables in the middle, floor-to-ceiling shelves along the left wall, and on the right a huge mural of a raven...
The Willards arrived at the main entrance of Hull House in Lazar’s apple-green Pierce-Arrow, the most reliable winter car in his collection. George was embarrassed when Virgil opened the side door and gave Margaret his arm to help her down to the curb. Children and their laborer parents were...
When I brought over lunch on May 1 and my father didn’t show up at his apartment, his voice saying I might not see you tomorrow kept coming back to me. I even stepped out on the balcony and looked down toward the riverwalk, but he hadn’t jumped, no sirens were closing in, and I scolded myself for imagining he’d ever do such a thing...
The Bankers’ Panic began on October 17, 1907, when two dubious financiers failed to corner the copper market, and the institutions that lent money to the scheme, most of them already teetering from the recession, hurtled toward insolvency. Within a week one of the nation’s largest trust...
That evening out with Lucy, I nearly ended up at her apartment. But not quite. Instead, I came home and called Dhara, and at last she picked up the phone and let me back in. It’s hard to recall the precise details of that night, in light of what would happen only a few days later. I remember following...
He didn’t know he was dying, but at the end of this voyage from New York to Panama City on the SS Santa Lucia, he would be met by an ambulance, taken to a Colón hospital, then laid out on his deathbed. This was supposed to have been a new beginning, though he’d had too many of those to count...
The same week that Margaret forced George to tell her, “This is your house,” he got an apartment of his own. He’d lost another client that morning, had endured another reproof from Lazar, and on his lunch break had wandered into the Palmer House, where he’d lived during his engagement. The same...
A week and a half after my father died, thirty or so people gathered at his apartment for the cocktail party he had requested. I served Diet Rite and rum to those game enough to try it, and stocked the bar and fridge for everyone else. Since only a half dozen of my father’s asterisked friends had...
Throughout June 1909, George was trying to live for the moment. He did not want to think about September, when he was due to board a train to New York, then a ship to Liverpool. Margaret had already gone to her father and asked him to reduce George’s hours so he could finish this novel, and...
The week after scattering my father’s ashes I visited the Chicago Rare Book Company in search of the lean, eager man with chain-slung bifocals. He was easy to find since he ran the shop by himself, and during the hour and a half I spent with him I was the only patron to walk in. He introduced himself...
How he found himself on an eastbound train leaving Chicago was a story he would write time and again in the coming years. It was a story he’d already written, already lived—leaving an ever-narrowing place for a seemingly open one, slipping out under the cover of darkness, running away...