A. M. Homes, The End of Alice (Scribner’s, 1996)
[originally posted 16May2001]
It’s not often one finds a book about pedophilia with “The National Bestseller” across the top of its cover. I was intrigued. By the end, I was disgusted (and the pedophilia angle was actually the least disgusting of the novel’s many perversities), horrified, repelled, and completely in love with A. M. Homes.
The book centers around a narrator (nameless), an inmate in a facility for the criminally insane, and his correspondent, a nineteen-year-old female home on summer break from college. Both are pedophiles, and the two use one another as sounding boards for various ideas, and to discuss their exploits. We are witness to the girl’s seduction of Matt, a neighborhood boy of twelve. We spy on our narrator’s life in the hospital and his recollections of his childhood (ultimately, we are also given access to his memories of the crime that got him jailed—the most powerful scenes in an already intense journey). Throughout, we view through their eyes the foibles of humanity, some of which make pedophilia look like a walk in the park, and yet none of it is implausible, even if the stomach does slow flips now and again.
Homes forces her readers to identify closely with her bizarre duo. Our narrator comes right out and tells us, about two-thirds of the way through, we wouldn’t have read as far as we had unless we identified with him and his proclivities. That’s why I can’t believe this fantastic novel was ever a national bestseller—not that we are not a nation of pedophiles (the enduring image of the Coppertone girl and her mischievous Scottie dog has been evidence of that for thirty years now), but that enough of us are willing to admit it. ****