It is impossible to consider The End’s thematic aims without also considering its formal qualities. As a reading experience the novel is difficult, with its dense prose, unconventional chronological structure, and wide cast of characters. Similarly, the novel’s thematic questions are difficult to grasp and are buried in a sea of contradictions. Like his modernist forbears, Scibona mimics the chaos of contemporary existence, where the search for meaning can be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack.

The most obvious way Scibona frustrates reader expectations lies in his treatment of time. Scibona starts out in 1953, jumps back to the 1920s, earlier to the 1870s, back to 1953, and finally back to 1915. This unconventional time structure underscores the idea that the past is always living within the present. By the logic of the novel, people do not move forward perfectly; they move back and forth in fits and starts. Each decision a character makes in the present is influenced by events in the past. Mrs. Marini, for example, is led by the circumstances of her marriage, thirty years in the past, in how she deals with Lina’s family. Enzo, for another, is so haunted by finding Lina after she was raped that it is nearly the last thing on his mind before he dies. The inescapable sense of returning to the past—in the case of a couple of the novel’s dying characters—both explains and complicates the title. The End explains that there are no true endings; sometimes an ending for someone is a beginning for someone else, and sometimes the best way to understand a story is by starting with its final scene.

In connection to the disjointedness surrounding the treatment of time, where characters are cut off from family members and their own earlier selves by long stretches of time while feeling simultaneously that the past is living within them, The End evidences a similar confusion regarding place. All...

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