The Never Enders
Anyone who's spent time on the internet knows that self-appointed forum police love to apply the baton of condescension liberally to the brow of those who do not utilize the search function. So when Michael Sonbert contacted me about reviewing his novel, The Never Enders, I decided some research was in order. Not only had Sonbert previously taken out ad space here at The Cult, but he seemed to have made some fans on the forums as well. I was hesitant to review a book I hadn't requested directly from the publisher out of a selfish desire for a freebie, but The Cult has a history of helping out struggling authors, so I decided to continue in that illustrious tradition.
Enter Perry Patton- an angry young man with aspirations of ending his life. To that end, he boards a train bound for the big city, hell-bent on drinking himself to death ala Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. Upon his arrival, he meets a mysterious beauty and is adopted into a surrogate family of hard living misfits. As his life spirals out of control in a dizzying vortex of sex, drugs and violence, he begins to realize that maybe death isn't the answer to his problems.
I've got to admit -- I didn't really like Perry at first. I found myself having a hard time identifying with him. He doesn't have the wide reaching relatablility of a Holden Caufield. His is a more specific malaise. There is a real juvenile mean streak at work in Perry, one that makes it hard to empathize with him. His holier than thou disdain of everyone he comes in contact with and his reactionary response to the world around him only serve to keep the reader at arms length.
Maybe like Roger Murtaugh, I'm getting too old for this shit. The twenty year old me that was thrilled upon discovering Fight Club might have reveled in the bleakness of The Never Enders, but these days, I'm not such an easy mark. Especially in regards to teenage angst. Contrary to the lambasting I received from one reader in the comments of my Pilo Family Circus review, angst is not synonymous with dissent. Angst is born out of depression and fear. Just because you grow less angsty doesn't mean your edge has dulled.
This impression, however, was based entirely on the first thirty pages. A day later, Blood's A Rover showed up on my doorstep and I made like a rat and abandoned ship. A streak of high profile releases followed, and The Never Enders was relegated to the purgatory of the back burner. I felt bad, but buried my guilt in other books. Four months and a couple polite reminders from the author later, and I knew I had to give The Never Enders another shot.
Some authors can’t write convincing teenagers. Sonbert's voice is so authentically young, I incorrectly placed his age closer to that of his protagonist. It brought to mind Bret Easton Ellis, whose debut novel Less Than Zero was published at the tender age of twenty-one. But whereas Ellis observed his characters with a detached indifference, I get the feeling that Sonbert has injected much more of himself into his work. At times it feels like the author is trying too hard to provoke us, which is a shame, because as the story progresses and these elements slip away, I found myself actually feeling for Perry and being pulled into his world.
That's where things started to click for me. When Perry stopped being so petulant and became involved in lives other than his own. Taken in context, Perry’s actions are true to his character, and the story as a whole supports this. He just starts out so damn unlikeable. Fortunately, by the time we learn why Perry wants to die, he has become much more palatable as a character.
I know this sounds predominantly negative, but it's not. Perry and I just got off on the wrong foot, is all. And just like Dirtmouth on the train, he started to grow on me. Sonbert finishes particularly strong, nailing an ending that could have easily veered into cartoonish nihilism or some sort of manufactured redemption. It was enough to back me away from a pretty steep cliff, and I'm interested in seeing what he does next.