The end of things: that’s what everybody’s worried about in Jared Yates Sexton’s short story collection An End To All Things published by rising star indie press Atticus Books (who published KINO earlier this spring). The end of love, or a job, or a lifestyle, or a life, or time – these are the things that needlessly preoccupy us. It is the end of things — as a concept — that controls our lives, not the beginning or continuation of them. We all have an undying fear of the end. What, then, to do with this fear?
Throughout the twenty-three stories, Sexton takes the reader on a journey through the things that make humans tick – forgetfulness, heartbreak, murder, death, thievery, etc. He brings forth tale after tale filled with characters that develop a sense of understanding of their own circumstances, and displays how a dull fate has its grip on their lives. He starts with immediate authority: “Please. For once. Just sit down. No, I’m not telling you to shut up. Just listen to me, okay? Sit down and listen because I’ve got something I need to say” (1).
Despite his direct address to the reader, Sexton doesn’t have an arrogant tone. He doesn’t believe that his authorial insight is any more important than the reader’s. What he does have, however, is the desire to start a conversation with his audience, and to open their minds to the reality that everyone either fears the end of things, or is numb to this fear. This book is a call for us to recognize our fear about “the end” and examine it. No one understands why they do the things that they do. It is our own hilarious humanity that dulls our senses to true reality, and forces us to act absurdly in our own situations. Sexton grasps this from the beginning, and weaves it whole-heartedly throughout his collection.
“I think maybe, with the things we do, it’s all an illusion, she said. Maybe we don’t have any choices. Maybe we’re all just helpless” (77).
Throughout the collection, Sexton develops a sardonic wit that comments on the helplessness of humanity, and our inability to realize the state of affairs that we are in. Sexton displays the apparent passivity and hyper-activity that possesses each individual. Each person is just trying to make sense of the mess they are in, and provide some form of meaning and activity to their dull lives.
Sexton, however, avoids a purely nihilistic tone throughout his stories, and truly explores mankind’s sense of the unknown. His stories enter into the mindset that life really is a cycle of searching, and all things are circular. There is no “end” or “beginning” in the stories, there is just a sense of things always having been. That’s what makes the title so perfect. The end to all things is also their beginning. Life is a monotonous cycle with the same characters, same stories, and same events. All plots are basically the same – birth, life, and death – with some varying activity in between. No one can escape fate. They can only search for personal meaning and bring it to life. That is where life becomes beautiful – the search.
“And then we just kept going round that big circle, she said. We kept missing the exit. Over and over and over again. She laughed. We got there though. You’ve got to give me that” (118).
Sexton’s writing is invigorating: while seemingly telling the same tale, nuanced differently each time, each story brings to life the different emotions and events in life. While all things are basically the same, all things are inherently different. There is a certain brevity and depth to each individual, it just takes some searching to find it. Sexton asserts that while much of life seems to be continuously unchanging, there are certain times where things radically shift. It is up to us to keep fighting to break the cycle. Once the cycle is broken, we truly live. Sexton pushes through the monotonous bullshit to true beauty. As he states, “You’ll learn before too long. You’ll get the idea. They put a shovel in your hand and you dig. That’s what you do” (30).