I loved Clegg’s first novel, Did You Ever Have a Family, so I was happy to receive an advance review copy of his second novel, The End of the Day. Unfortunately, this book fell flat for me.
This novel is a story about three women in their sixties who grew up together in rural Connecticut and who haven’t talked to each other since they were young. Dana Goss comes from a wealthy family and lives on a rural estate called Edgeweather. Jackie is her neighbor and closest friend, and Lupita’s parents and sister work for the Goss family. The book begins with Dana paying Jackie a visit for the first time in over forty years – with a briefcase full of papers.
What happened to these three women (who aren’t quite friends) is told over the course of the book. Unfortunately, the characters never feel developed. This book felt long, though it wasn’t, and I left it without any real sense of who Dana and Jackie were as people. Clegg’s way of telling the story keeps a lot hidden, and even when facts are revealed there’s not a lot of clarity. For example, there’s a character who we discover was adopted, but his parentage is unclear. There’s a husband and wife that separate for a time but the reasons aren’t explained until much later in the book. There are abusive parents and abusive (adult) children, but they don’t connect much to the story.
The book feels very disjointed at first, but that’s true of a lot of novels where it takes a while to see how the characters connect. With this book, I kept waiting for it to come together, but I was ultimately disappointed by the direction it took.
Clegg focuses on the income/class disparities among these three women, and it was interesting to see how Dana’s privileged background just keeps on giving while the other two characters struggle. Race is touched on minimally. Lupita’s family is Mexican-American, and while she feels like an outsider, those issues aren’t explored in a lot of depth.
One of the problems with this book is that all the characters do terrible things and have terrible things done to them, but none are sympathetic, and more importantly, none of them grow as characters (I actually love a good unlikable protagonist as long as they are well-developed). I never felt I understood anyone’s motivations. Dana and Jackie are selfish, judgmental, and manipulative. Hap comes off as an absolutely terrible person as he neglects the two fathers he grew up with, then completely ignores his wife, his newborn child, and his mother. Alice, Lee, and Mo were the most sympathetic and interesting characters in the book, and they disappear early on.
Some parts of this book are particularly vivid, such as when Clegg is describing the history of the Goss family estate, or Lupita’s experiences in Kauai (one of my favorite places). But those moments contrast with the lack of definition in other parts of the book.
I find that a lot of novel plotlines revolve around pregnancy – and when it’s done well, you can see how a single pregnancy affects not only your whole life, but that of an entire family for many generations. With this book, the pregnancy and child-rearing storylines felt distant and unreal. One woman gives birth but it’s barely described, another has a child to “land a husband”, and another adopts a child just because he’s there. Sex in this book felt similarly distant. I never really felt like I was connecting with the experiences of any of the characters.
This book is described as being built around the framework of a single day, hence the title, but even that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I was disappointed by the resolution – or lack thereof – of these women’s stories (and I’m not someone who likes plots to be neatly tied up at the end).
I really wanted to like this book, but sadly, it didn’t work for me.
Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Gallery Books. This book publishes on September 29, 2020.