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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The End of Me

Alfred Hayes

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To purchase The End of Me

Title: The End of Me
Author: Alfred Hayes
Genre: Novel
Written: 1968
Length: 180 pages
Availability: The End of Me - US
The End of Me - UK
The End of Me - Canada
C'en est fini de moi - France
Mi perdición - España
  • With an Introduction by Paul Bailey

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Our Assessment:

B+ : grim/sour but well-executed self-reckoning

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 20/6/1968 Iain Hamilton
Le Figaro . 19/10/2017 Eric Neuhoff
Harper's . 12/2020 David L. Ulin
Libération . 13/10/2017 V.Bloch-Lainé
The LA Times . 26/5/2020 Scott Bradfield
The NY Rev. of Books . 23/3/2021 Vivian Gornick
Sunday Times . 23/6/1968 Philip Norman
TLS . 27/6/1968 H.L.Beaver

  From the Reviews:
  • "(I)f the sneer succeeds in fixing itself as the typical expression of the Western world in the wavering present, then the bold strokes that make The End of Me, by Alfred Hayes, will be a valuable record." - Iain Hamilton, Daily Telegraph

  • "If Hayes's magnificent cycle of novels has anything to tell us, it's that the accounting that each protagonist faces eventually arrives for us all." - David L. Ulin, Harper's

  • "Ses histoires cruelles dégagent un charme fou, une nonchalance, un désenchantement crâne qui résonnent dès les premières lignes. Sa langue, remarquablement traduite par Agnès Desarthe, est élégante, argotique, sobre." - Virginie Bloch-Lainé, Libération

  • "It's everything a screenplay can't be: the stream-of-consciousness monologue (more Dos Passos than Joyce) of an individual wrestling with his own ordinary failures, especially when it comes to the things he loves most, women and writing. (...) Asher is drowning in his sense of failure. Giving yourself over to each brief, tortured and often beautifully written paragraph feels like watching someone wrestle with the unfortunate reality of himself." - Scott Bradfield, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The End of Me was published in 1968 and reads like a coda to the other two novels. (...) In the final scene he stands, drained, at the window of his eighth-floor hotel room, looking down onto the unforgiving street below. And now, in all his bitterness and bad faith and moving self-deceptiveness, he becomes the existentially mortified successor to the narrators of In Love and My Face for the World to See, the one who binds the novels together" - Vivian Gornick, The New York Review of Books

  • "Each word is a razor-nick perfectly located; he catches the whole, dull unnaturalness of New York under snow in one word, "obliterated." Extreme brevity, word-weariness in fact, is the natural expression of Asher (.....) A flatly skilful destruction; an uncanny eye for a city's inanimate detail, the torn placards, the slow minority of people only noticed by others who are too depressed and unhappy to hurry about." - Philip Norman, Sunday Times

  • "The situation is static; the result, a masque, a dumb-show, a charade from a hotel window. (...) Except the dialogue, which is touched in as deftly as ever: the scenes marvellously dabbed with a few strokes of the commonplace. New York -- the whole stage-set of Manhattan -- is really the master character. It is the New Yorker who intrigues, not his tale." - Harold Lowther Beaver, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The End of Me is narrated by Asher, a one-time very successful Hollywood screenwriter who, at age fifty-one, finds his work isn't in demand any longer and that his second wife is having an affair. The opening scene is his reaction after witnessing his wife's infidelity, him already on his knees:

     I crawled out of the bush away from the window and I began to run. My only safety lay in flight. If I stopped I'd howl. I knew I must not stop. [...] I kept saying to myself: You're finished. This is the end of you.
       He does flee, across the continent, back to the place where he grew up, New York, abandoning practically everything. Some clothes and a photograph album are pretty much all he takes along; he's tempted to make a scene and smash up the place before he leaves, but simply leaves all the lights in the house on, so that it: "blazed. It was utterly illuminated". That's what his wife would return home to.
       He has high hopes for his return to New York -- "She had healed me in the past", he recalls -- and:
Yes, I'd given the city so much of my possible life. Surely, what was broken in me, the crippled sense of myself, would be restored. I'd heal among these brutal angles. I'd bathe in her like a spa. I'd convalesce in her indifferent arms.
       Apparently Hollywood-cynicism -- and two failed marriages -- only infected him so much, and he chooses not to recall that old saw about whether you can go home again .....
       Asher is down and out, and it's no surprise that returning to the would-be fold isn't the solution. It's no longer the same, for one: his old New York has of course been lost. And it's not like he has friends or much family he can turn to. (He makes a list of his friends -- reducing them to initials, on top of it --, a list of friends who had died: "They had been close to my age, or a little younger, when they died", he observes.) He even settles in a hotel, rather than trying to put down firmer roots again.
       He visits one old relative, stuck in the past, Aunt Dora, and agrees to meet her son, Michael. This nephew of his is a would-be poet; Asher doesn't think much of his poetry -- or him. But he's family, and Asher doesn't really have anyone else in town to do anything with, and he offers the poet a job of sorts accompanying him on his walks of rediscovery through town -- "Down Memory Lane".
       Michael also offers him a slight opening on the new world: he's of another generation, and moves in a world that's foreign to Asher but which he is intrigued by. Of course, it's not his place, not his world -- as also evidenced by their different attitudes towards language, as Asher is put off by what he considers the crudity of Michael's writing, while Michael sees Asher as out of touch. Their differences are pretty fundamental, Asher complaining:
"You sound like a little prig, inside out."
     "Look who was talking about being a prig."
       Michael has a girlfriend, a law student with the unlikely name of Aurora d'Amore -- Asher observing upon meeting her, not exactly diplomatically: "nobody has a name like that. Strippers, maybe. Are you a stripper ?" Despite her No, the designation proves to be all too spot-on: Michael and, especially, Aurora strip Asher to the bone
       Aurora is friendly with Asher, and he encourages it. He likes her company; he gives her a key to his hotel room. She insists she won't sleep with him, but she does turn to him repeatedly. He sees through her -- "Oh, she acted. She played complicated games" -- but he doesn't see (or rather: doesn't want to look) far and deep enough. He gets played -- repeatedly, in cruel and almost senseless ways. Yes, Michael and Aurora wouldn't mind taking some of his money, but ultimately it's not about that for them; their game is a much more insidious one -- which is part of the fun of the novel, which is very different from your usual variations on someone being taken advantage of.
       Asher slowly fills in some of his backstory, sharing stories with Michael and Aurora, revealing what happened with his wives to the reader. There's no question that he remains obsessed with the past: his roaming around New York is an attempt to reclaim it in some way. And there's that photo album that he clings to, one of his few possessions that he's kept that can be called personal: "The photographs were all the things I'd been. Or imagined I'd been". No surprise that it plays a role in the novel's final twist (of the knife).
       Asher is aware of his condition, his precarious state of mind:
Oh, there was a desperation of a kind of in me, I could feel that I had been shattered and the essential parts of myself scattered over a vacant lot and that I had to, more or less on my hands and knees, go about picking up or trying to pick up the scattered pieces, that at my age I was in danger of not knowing what I meant, what my own experience meant, what, if anything, the experience of my generation meant.
       If a grim and even sour story, Hayes' style perfectly complements it, and it is this mutual reïnforcement of style and matter that give the book its power. There's a staccato-rhythm to many of the short sentences -- which also makes the more occasional lengthy, wending stream of consciousness bits stand all the more out --:
She looks at the seated men. She ignores the women. The pale blonde. The partner's wife. The men shuffle, smile. But their eyes are hot. Or heat. Their collars are tight. Or tighten. She sweats.
       Style matches and reflects experience -- especially in his attempts to recapture a New York that isn't quite there any more:
Gaps. Non sequiturs. Something that did not follow. An experience of a different order. What ? And what was it I expected it to evolve from have a connection with ? My time. My life. My past.
       Michael cruelly cuts through it all, piercing Asher's romanticized fantasy of the New York he's been grasping for:
Yes, sir. because old Asher's soul is intertwined with this magnificent city, gentlemen. He is warp to her woof, or something. And ain't we all. Ain't we all. Because, old buddies, she isn't a city at all, she's an ancestral curse, she's the haunted castle by the polluted sea, she's the malarial mother of us all.
       The End of Me is a requiem-novel, for a lost city and a life somehow passed by. Asher is beyond regrets; he's enjoyed success -- considerable, at times -- but he's lost all hold: work has dried up, his wife betrayed him. All he has is a decent bank account balance and an album of memories. He's at sea, and doesn't know how to keep from sinking. He recognizes Michael and Aurora's cruelty -- but still lets them toy with him.
       It makes for a dark, almost unpleasant story, but Hayes' writing, mirroring his tale so well, makes it compelling and worthwhile. And with a title like The End of Me -- and the pitch-black cover of the New York Review Books edition ... -- readers can't have been expecting a really uplifting tale anyway, right ?

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 August 2020

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The End of Me: Reviews: Alfred Hayes: Other books by Alfred Hayes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English-born American author and screenwriter Alfred Hayes lived 1911 to 1985.

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