Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Club: The Sense of an Ending

I'm pretty sure that it was January when we said we would read The Sense of an Ending.  It's April now.  The book is only 160 pages.  I think I had it read 2 weeks after we announced it (it was the first new book I bought on the new Kindle I got for Christmas).  I loved it.  I've thought about it since.  I've told other people that they should read it.  

So....I'm not really sure what happened.

But it's behind us.  Let's talk about it now.

For the purpose of this discussion let me just give you a brief summary. Anthony is the narrator of the book.  He's in his 60s, divorced and looking back at his life.  In high school Anthony had a group of friends that toward the end started hanging out with a boy named Adrian.  They go their separate ways and in college Anthony finally starts dating his first real girlfriend (Veronica).  The relationship ends badly and a few months later Anthony gets a letter from Adrian saying that Adrian has started dating Veronica.  In response Anthony sends a scathing letter saying mean things about Veronica and cutting them both off. Several months later Anthony gets news that Adrian has killed himself.

Anthony is looking back on the situation because the Veronica's mother (whom he met once) has just died and has included him in her will.  The meat of the book is Anthony looking back on the situation and trying to figure out what happened and why he would be included in her will.

The thing that's been running around in my head since I read the book is the letter he wrote.  Anthony wrote the letter when he was really angry.  He got a lot off his chest (said some really mean things) and at 60 he didn't even remember what the letter had contained and had moved on.

It turns out that some of really mean things he said about his ex-girlfriend turned out to be a true.  When he said, "I hope...{insert mean thing here}....." It happened.  

The letter didn't mean anything to Anthony, he could hardly recall it at 60.  And yet, that very same letter was a major life turning point for Veronica.  That's what I've been thinking about.  How often do we say something mean or petty or spiteful out of anger that we quickly forget it but it becomes a major life turning point for the people we've spoken to or who have overheard us?  It's tricky because I know that I've been on the opposing end of it.  I've had people say things (to me or just in front of me) or I've seen them in parenting weakness moments and I've recorded the memory and made mental note that I'll never do that or never say that or whatever.

I don't really know what conclusion to draw from that.  Is it fair?  No. Can we watch everything we say and do and avoid it? No. 

So what do you think?  Is there anything to do about it? Does it matter?  Have you done it?

Maybe Anthony said it best when he said, 

"How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but - mainly - to ourselves." (95) 

Or maybe he put it more painfully when he said, 

"There is accumulation.  There is responsibility.  And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest."

So what do you think?  Is there anything to do about taking meaningless moments and giving them great meaning? Does it matter?  Have you done it to other people?  Have they done it to you?


  1. You are right! Never, never give up. And the dress looks cute.

  2. I'll have to get a copy of this book. It sounds really good!

  3. I read Goon Squad and Sense of an Ending within a couple weeks of each other and it really gave a useful perspective on things. I was feeling a bit discouraged with the whole tone and sentiment of Goon Squad. It seemed to replay the message that life is inherently messy and painful and that nothing can change that. I walked away from the book thinking it is what it is. Shortly after that I read The Sense of an Ending and felt the gently reminder that we can life may be messy and we may hurt each other, but for that very reason, we can never afford to be cruel (the letter) or to assume we know the motivation behind people's choices ("In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see"--hymn 220). I know I have acted rashly and times and caused injury, and that is inherently human, but so is trying again. Thanks for the thoughtful reads. I know your little one is coming shortly, but is what else is on your reading list. I've got Escape from Camp 14 (a biography of sorts about an escapee from North Korea), Make it Stick (a nonfiction book I heard about at an academic conference I attended in March), Poisonwood Bible (a book I loved reading several years ago and am now enjoying as an audiobook that I listen to to help me get through housework), and Terry Tempest Williams' new book (I forget the exact title, but something about women and birds and voices, so I'm sold).