The End, by justine Avery, is a novella that starts out with great promise, but ultimately disappoints due to an ending that is muddled, confusing, and unintentionally (I think) ambiguous. On the plus side, the novella starts out reading a bit like an episode of The Twilight Zone. The story follows Trevor, a man described as being on the edge of middle age, but who seems more like late twenties. Trevor has a wife and an unplanned baby on the way. He has an office job he hates, and a best friend with whom he drinks beer, but his life is a mundane stress of bills to pay and the baby on the way. Trevor’s only escape from the treadmill of life is the thrill he gets from riding his mountain bike along a dangerous canyon edge alone on Saturday mornings. Trevor records his rides with a GoPro so he can relive the excitement later. One day, after a particularly exciting ride, he watches the video and instead of the exciting ride he remembered, he sees himself miss a jump and fall to his bloody death. (The recorded death includes his friend and his wife being there on camera and lamenting his tragic death.)
So, the set-up is interesting, and bizarre. Is the recording a portent of something that is going to happen in the future? Is it an alternate universe? Can Trevor avoid this fate by not riding his beloved bike anymore? Trevor has to live with the foreknowledge of what he interprets as his impending death. This is where we might expect an Edgar Allan Poe-type story about what happens inside the mind of the man as he slowly is driven mad by this apparition. Or, the author might spin a yarn about the hero’s attempts to alter the future and avoid his death (perhaps successfully, or perhaps not). Or, perhaps the recording was never real at all. There is a lot of potential here. I could, at this point, even overlook the author’s penchant for using ellipses instead of punctuation. I’m fully engaged in the story and I definitely want to see what happens.
Unfortunately, the author’s execution of the second half of the story leaves much to be desired. There is a back story involving Trevor’s father, who killed himself, and an inheritance he does not want to acknowledge. This leads to a subplot about Trevor needing a will to make sure that his wife and unborn baby are properly taken care of should he die. (This is not actually correct, and the details about the will preparation are mostly wrong, which irks me as a lawyer, but ultimately this subplot is inconsequential.) What we do get lack the horror or suspense that the author intends. Then, instead of a climactic ending, we get something that is very ambiguous, contradictory, confusing, and which leaves the reader without a real sense of feeling for Trevor one way or the other. I thought at first that there the author was going for an evil twist, but it never got there. I re-read the final chapter three times and still could not make heads or tails of what happened. I really wanted to really like this story at the half-way mark, but the second half left me quite disappointed.