The End of the Day by Bill Clegg: That old second novel syndrome…

I was a big fan of Bill Clegg’s debut, Did You Ever Have a Family, back in 2015 although I know many others weren’t so impressed. He’s an American literary agent with quite a reputation resulting in publishers queuing round the block to get their hands on his first novel. I was keen to read his second then, particularly as the blurb dangled the promise of dark secrets. The End of the Day follows a set of characters over six days when a multitude of beans are spilled thanks to the failing memory of one and the death of another.

Dana Goss has arranged to be driven to the small Connecticut town she hasn’t visited for over four decades, taking a briefcase of documents with her. Dana is aware that her memory is slipping away, that sometimes she loses her grip on reality. Once there, she instructs her driver to wait outside her childhood best friend’s house, eventually posting a note through the door when Jackie refuses to open it. These two are the antithesis of each other – Dana, rich and privileged, a member of the local gentry; Jackie from a respectable blue-collar family who married straight out of school and pregnant. The events one Fourth of July, misinterpreted by everyone but the two people most intimately involved, resulted in a schism in their friendship that can’t be repaired. Far from Connecticut, Hap has planned to introduce his newborn daughter to her grandfather from whom he has been estranged for most of his life. Leaving his partner and their child with his mother, Hap heads to the hotel to find his father in a coma. Meanwhile, Lupita drives Americans from the airport to their Hawaii hotels, thinking about her past while avoiding the news she’s been expecting. The next week will see secrets revealed, resolutions made and an attempt at rapprochement as the links between these apparently disparate characters become clear.

I’m a fan of parallel narratives. They offer an opportunity for a pleasing vein of suspense and character development as backstories unfold which is what I was hoping for with The End of the Day. Central to the novel are the three women – Dana, Jackie and Lupita – whose voices are the first we hear. Clegg’s story gets off to something of a slow start, filling in a great deal of background detail for each of these characters, so much so that I began to wonder if I would stick with it but then a bombshell was delivered, the fallout from which kept me going until the end as smaller bomblets were dropped. As other characters are introduced, themes of class, entitlement and race are explored alongside the complications of family. This and those many spilled beans were enough to merit a review for me but I suspect that those who felt Clegg’s debut missed the mark won’t be converted by this one. It’s a novel I began with high expectations but finished thinking it needed a good editor – a little ironic considering Clegg’s day job.

Jonathan Cape: London 9780224102377 320 pages Hardback read via NetGalley

22 thoughts on “The End of the Day by Bill Clegg: That old second novel syndrome…”

  1. That’s disappointing to hear, Susan. I really enjoyed Bill Clegg’s first novel and like novels with disparate characters and parallel stories which don’t come together until close to the end where you see the connections between them all. But this one sounds as if it could have done with a trim before heading out into the world.

  2. I find it so interesting that not even a literary agent can get the distance you need to be objective about your own writing to edit it properly. It just goes to show how vital a good editor can be to your work.

  3. I fall into the category of readers who were not won over by Did You Ever Have a Family. I thought it was an interesting concept to have multiple narrative voices providing a cumulative explanation of what happened but it ran out of steam by the end and came to a predictable, safe conclusion. Interesting that the earlier book could have done with an editor pushing him to do more, whereas with his new book, the editor needed to tell him to do less…

    1. All too often in my experience. I think writers are often under a great deal of pressure to deliver the second novel they’ve been contracted to write while their names are still fresh in readers’ minds.

  4. The merits you’ve enumerated secure my interest in this one (they’re pet structures/themes of mine) but I can understand your disappointment. And because I’ve not yet read his first, I may try to read them in the opposite order, in case, like you, I end up preferring the debut. I sympathize with authors who find themselves in this situation tho; it must be very hard to write a second book after the first has been so tremendously well received, as his was.

    1. I suspect publishers want a quick turnaround, too, when the first novel has made a splash. I’ll be interested to know what you think if you do get around to reading them.

  5. I was a big fan of Clegg’s first novel — it probably helped that I approached it with low expectations & was pleasantly surprised! This one sounds a little disappointing but, since I already have a copy, I plan on definitely giving it a try . . . .

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: