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