Literary Criticism and Significance

Salvatore Scibona took ten years to complete The End, during which he visited Italy on a Fulbright Fellowship and was a recipient of artistic fellowships at the McDowell Arts Colony, Provincetown, and Yaddo, among others. The long, hard work paid off immediately: The End has been praised by critics and was a National Book Award finalist.

In interviews Scibona has revealed much about the process of constructing The End. In a discussion with Fiction Writers Review, Scibona attributed the novel’s genesis to a scene in one of the “Forest Runner” sections where the jeweler walks up the staircase to his bedroom after being humiliated while playing the handsaw. Scibona says:

At first I had only wanted to describe that sound, you know, what a man’s flat foot sounds like on a step. Then what? What’s at the top of the stairs? A door? What’s it look like? What’s behind the door?

Scibona defends the novel’s unconventional structure, in which he begins the novel with Rocco, a relatively minor character, by likening his approach to a musical symphony:

I wanted it to be like a long piece of music. The melody is introduced early. Then the melody is repeated in different keys, with different instruments, until it works its way into the reader’s feelings. I wanted to prepare the reader for that kind of reading experience, and for a kind of musical conclusion.

Scibona has also admitted the autobiographical nature of the novel; he says the northern Ohio city depicted is “in almost every respect Cleveland, Ohio.”

Reviews were nearly unanimous in their praise for The End, citing its ambitious structure and beautiful prose. A starred review from Publisher’s Weekly calls the novel an “exceptional debut” and “a polyphonic narrative that is part novel, part epic prose poem.” Donna Seaman of Booklist cites the book’s historical perspective, calling it “one loaded novel about twentieth-century-America’s growing pains.” A reviewer for the Los Angeles Times calls the novel “exquisitely rendered” and applauds its emotional heft but questions Scibona’s decision to begin the novel with Rocco.

Although most contemporary reviews are limited by time and space constraints, The End is a novel that will continue to be examined and that rewards repeated readings. Because of its unconventional time structure and dense prose, perhaps the only way to understand the novel fully is to start back at the beginning after having read it through.