The End of the Book

Written by Porter Shreve
Review by James Hawking

Two narratives alternate in this fictional experiment. The first is set in Chicago beginning in 2008. In order to pay off debt accumulated getting a creative writing degree, Adam Clary works as “a termite in the house of the written word,” cooperating in the digitization of world literature. His wife, who got him the job with her firm, correctly suspects him of seeing a former girlfriend. His father is a retired scholar of Sherwood Anderson.

The second track begins in 1904, when George Willard arrives in Chicago from Winesburg, Ohio, continuing Anderson’s character sketches. George works in an ad agency where he has preserved his shaky job by marrying the boss’s daughter, who correctly suspects him of seeing his hometown sweetheart, Helen White.

The two threads are cleverly connected in ways that are unexpected and almost, but not quite, parallel. Although both stories are told from the point of view of the two male protagonists, all of the women, both wives and both girlfriends, are sympathetically drawn, not an easy thing to do when infidelity is the issue. They are all strong and interesting women and provide a contrast of female roles in the two eras. Shreve draws a sympathetic portrait of Chicago at the beginning of both the 20th and 21st centuries. Recommended.