WORLD'S END by T. Coraghessan Boyle
Kirkus Star


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A then-and-now history of Westchester Country from Boyle (Water Music, 1981; Greasy Lake and Other Stories, 1985) that takes the breath away, awes with its breadth and mastery--and declines by the end to quality-but-standard entertainment. Walter Van Brunt is 22 and both drunk and high when he loses his foot one night in 1968 as his motorcycle crashes into a historical marker near Peterskill, N.Y., commemorating a 1693 uprising against the local ""Van Wart Manor."" Set in motion thereby are two parallel stories amid a wash of color-filled history. First, as the hapless young Walter tries to pull together the scattered pieces of his own personal life, is the story of his search for the truth about his missing father: a handsome man who, back in 1949, is said (it's true) to have betrayed his own idealistically left-wing wife and friends, helping incite the vicious anti-left Peterskill Riot. As Walter finds out more about his betrayer-father, the reader finds out more about Peterskill history, both Indian and Dutch: including the life story of one Jeremias Van Brunt (and his son Wouter), who lost his foot not to a signpost but to a snapping turtle. Parallels gather and abound: struggles between tenant and landowner in the 17th century parallel struggles between left and right in the 20th; and a terrible betrayal in the 17th (by none other than namesake Wouter) paralles the betrayal of 1949--and Waiter's own less terrible (as it turns out) betrayal-to-come of 1969. Boyle's aims here are prodigious, and his structure vast. Trouble is that if the intricate scheme is to come out fight in the end, it requires characters who will behave themselves and play their lines properly: so that a foppishly stereotyped landlord-oppressor of the 17th century is ancester to a stereotyped and wealthy right-winger in the 20th, complete with sexual frailties, wandering wife, and airhead and oversexed daughter; and Walter Van Brunt himself thins sadly into a post-preppy with a drug problem rather than growing into a character with force enough to drive this big novel to richer ends. Still, an energy-bursting tour de force of history and jigsaw pleasures, if not, at end, as reverberant as its promise.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
ISBN: 0140299939
Publisher: Viking