AT THE BOTTOM OF EVERYTHING by Ben Dolnick

AT THE BOTTOM OF EVERYTHING

KIRKUS REVIEW

A melancholy young man stuck in the wilderness years of his mid-20s is forced to confront a buried secret when a childhood friend disappears.

At first, it would appear that Dolnick (You Know Who You Are, 2010, etc.) is simply going to roll out the same coming-of-age story that characterized his first two novels—and for the first hundred pages or so, he pretty much does. And then the novel loses its mind, but we’ll get to that part. Adam Sanecki is a giant mope who feels old at the ripe age of 26. He tutors obnoxious children with as little interest as possible, trolls Facebook to stalk his wispy ex-girlfriend and sleeps with one of his student’s mothers out of what seems sheer boredom. In between all this navel-gazing, we get a rather sweet story of Adam’s childhood friendship with Thomas Pell, a brilliant, awkward classmate at their exclusive prep school. They share a secret language and that unguarded bond that so often springs up between adolescents. Then Something Bad happens that marks both boys for life. Adam carries his secret by burying it, while Thomas starts to mentally unravel almost immediately. Then things get really weird. At the behest of Thomas’ terrified parents, Adam travels to New Delhi, India, where a mentally ill Thomas has gone to ground. This takes up two-thirds of the book; the whole setup seems rather preposterous. Adam meets an enigmatic spiritual leader who says Thomas must “purify.” Later, Thomas and Adam are forced to take responsibility for the trespass from their youth. A final reunion between the lifelong friends in a cave rings hollow, as does Adam’s admission of guilt.

Insincere characterizations and a weak central conflict detract from the novel. See instead Alex Garland’s The Beach.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-90798-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2013




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