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The End of the World Book

A Novel

Alistair McCartney

Publication Year: 2008

This is no ordinary novel. An encyclopedia of memory—from A to Z—The End of the World Book deftly intertwines fiction, memoir, and cultural history, reimagining the story of the world and one man’s life as they both hurtle toward a frightening future. Alistair McCartney’s alphabetical guide to the apocalypse layers images like a prose poem, building from Aristotle to da Vinci, hip-hop to lederhosen, plagues to zippers, while barreling from antiquity to the present.
    In this profound book about mortality, McCartney composes an irreverent archive of philosophical obsessions and homoerotic fixations, demonstrating the difficulty of separating what is real from what is imagined.

Finalist, Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, The Publishing Triangle

Finalist, PEN USA Literary Award for Fiction

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

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A

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pp. 3-14

According to the World Book Encyclopedia, Perth, Western Australia, the city in which I was born in 1971, and in which I spent the first twenty-two years of my life, is the world’s most isolated...

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B

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pp. 15-30

Just as in the Victorian Era, to conceal their bodies, women wore bustles and layers of stiff crinolines, and this had something to do with repression, in our era, boys wear baggy jeans and extra-extra large hoodies; this also has something to do with...

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C

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pp. 31-44

As a boy, when I used to go with my mother to the Museum of Western Australia, my favorite part was the reconstructions of rooms from the days of the early settlers. There was a parlor of a wealthy family, which was all dark and velvety. There was a dentist’s office, full of monstrous...

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D

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pp. 45-69

This doesn’t really worry me, because I figure I can dance when I’m dead. When I am dead, I’ll have far less to do. Therefore I’ll have more time and energy to dance. The issue of whether or not I’m too old to go out dancing will no longer be an issue. I’ll...

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E

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pp. 70-79

Thomas Eakins strived for realism, particularly when painting men’s asses; see The Swimming Hole. He sought to depict the male ass with scientific accuracy and painstaking detail, without losing feeling, by applying the paint like a dog applies its saliva. In his paintings...

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F

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pp. 80-87

Some days, my face feels like a ski mask, like the black wool kind commonly worn by terrorists. I feel like my eyes are twinkling coldly through the narrow slits in my face. And just as a ski mask hides the true identity of the terrorist, my face seems to be hiding...

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G

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pp. 88-105

It is said that British portrait painter Thomas Gainsborough hated painting portraits and only did them to make money. He preferred painting landscapes. So, whenever he did a portrait, he spent most of his time on the grass and trees and clouds and...

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H

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pp. 106-124

It has been well documented that with the appearance on the horizon of the AIDS epidemic, and with the subsequent disappearance of the species known as the gay clone, gay men, associating body hair with clones, and therefore with death, began to shave...

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I

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pp. 125-136

Naturally I resent every letter in the English alphabet, but there is no letter I resent more than the letter I. In fact, this so-called letter is not a letter at all. It is nothing but a mask, like a plain white mask one wears to the Carnival in Venice; and just as in porn...

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J

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pp. 137-140

Although in regards to mishandling the boy with cancer, Michael Jackson was found innocent in a court of law, and upon leaving the courthouse made the statement, I am innocent and I will always be king, my twelve-inch-high Michael Jackson porcelain...

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K

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pp. 141-146

When I think of Kafka, which is often, I never picture him writing. I prefer to think of him doing mundane things, like working in the moderately sized asbestos factory of which he was part owner for four years, his feet up on the desk, doing a quick sketch...

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L

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pp. 147-153

When I was a teenager I had long hair, and it seems most of my adolescence was spent at parties sitting on the floor with other boys, all of whom had long hair. You could almost reach into the past and drag us by the ends of our hair into the present. For years...

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M

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pp. 154-175

The most significant art form of the decade known as the 1970s was undoubtedly macram

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N

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pp. 176-179

A name is a word fastened to a body, but tentatively, like the labels on the pajamas and dressing gowns we wore when we were children, which gave the name of the manufacturer and conveyed other necessary information, such as the reminder that...

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O

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pp. 180-185

The most beautiful object I have ever seen is Kafka’s first writing desk. He received it when he was nine years old. The desk is very plain: dark wood, four spindly legs. No drawers to conceal secrets or legal documents. I can see him sitting at that desk, trying to...

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P

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pp. 186-200

There are wild parrots here in Venice. Every day they fly over our house and laugh at us. I don’t know what exactly it is they’re laughing about, though I suspect it has something to do with how colorless we are, unlike the parrots, which have more color...

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Q

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pp. 201-204

Between the years 1946 and 1952, my mother lived in Brisbane, the capital of the Australian state of Queensland, where, she told me, all the houses were on stilts, so all the furniture in the houses—sofas, curtains, etc.—wouldn’t get ruined when there...

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R

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pp. 205-212

As a boy I thought about rabies quite a lot. I was convinced that any day a rabid dog who had wandered a great distance just to find me would come up and bite me on the inside of my left thigh, giving me rabies. I would run home and go into the kitchen, where my mum would be peeling potatoes, and there...

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S

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pp. 213-240

As a kid, I loved those old black-and-white movies set in the Sahara. I don’t remember much about their storylines except that in every one of them there was a mute character, whose tongue had been cut out of his head. This character always knew everything that was going on but was unable to...

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T

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pp. 241-253

I like those small teardrops gang members sometimes have tattooed beneath the corners of their eyes. Some say it’s meant to indicate that the individual has killed someone and represents tears he is unable to cry, while others say that it means someone the gang member loved has died. I knew a boy...

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U

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pp. 254-261

My Aunt Joan’s decline was gradual and took place over a period of fifty years, but after the death of her daughter, Robin, my Aunt broke her hip and became utterly housebound. She spent the rest of her days in bed, beneath her mauve polyester eiderdown, watching daytime soap operas and reading women’s...

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V

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pp. 262-271

Every now and then I feel a pressing need to flee the alphabet. So I put on a jacket, pack a suitcase full of razors, and stow away on a silver rocket. It’s a long journey to the moon, but I clench my teeth and try to be patient. When I finally arrive, it’s always cold, and I’m glad my jacket has a zipper. I take out the first...

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W

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pp. 272-290

No doubt when the world ends—and it is not a question of if but when—we’ll take a lot of walks, in an attempt to walk off the discomfort that will surely arise in us with the end of the world. We’ll probably go for walks in the morning and the evening—that...

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X

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pp. 291-294

If, after countless painful and unnecessarily invasive procedures, on doctor’s orders I was told to evacuate language, I suppose I would do so, though I think I would still take one letter with me (assuming that there would be room in my luggage), even if the...

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Y

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pp. 295-297

I have never been interested in yachts; in fact, I have always felt a certain hostility—at times a hatred—toward those relatively small vessels used mainly for pleasure, along with a hatred for the men who sail them, and a deep dislike for anything even vaguely associated with yachting, for example, navy blue...

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Z

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pp. 298-304

When I think of Gaëtan Dugas, the French-Canadian flight attendant who paid his first known visit to a New York City bathhouse on October 31, 1980, the man to whom all the city’s initial cases of AIDS would be traced back—hence the moniker he was given: patient zero—I start off thinking about big...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 305-306

Many thanks to the following people for their aesthetic guidance and for reading the manuscript throughout its various stages: Jim Krusoe, Dennis Cooper, James McCourt, Richard Canning, Susana Ch


E-ISBN-13: 9780299226336
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299226305

Publication Year: 2008