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Book review: <i>The End Of The City</i> by David Bendernagel

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Book review: The End Of The City by David Bendernagel

the cover of the book

Teenager Ben Moor is a born runner, but he can't escape from suburbia, the death of his father, or what he's going to do for the rest of his life. On the brink of adulthood he's forced to rethink relationships, perceptions of masculinity, and social destruction.

The story

Ben Moor is the alpha of his group of friends. He's the best; the best athlete, the quickest, the coolest. His friends and his younger brother Bobby look up to him, girls like him, and he knows he's the best without being stuck up about it. But he and the community he lives in are on the edge. Their suburban neighbourhood is far enough out to feel as though they could be swallowed by the undeveloped land beyond, creeping green decay in towards them. 9:11 was a defining moment in their childhoods, and emblem of destruction, chaos, and meaninglessness.

When Ben and Bobby's father is killed in a car accident, Ben switches off emotionally. He has other things he needs to worry about, like girls, his friends, and what he's going to do for the rest of his life. But in Ben's narrative of how he wants his life to shape, the story keeps bringing him back to his father.

Simultaneously we follow the story of a hitman. Having just killed his best friend, he is the best at what he does. He's been trained to be an emotionless contract killer, and he is respected within his profession. However, he too is at a crossroads in his life. His focus keeps coming back to the murder of his friend, and now, his proteges are trying to kill him. He struggles to find meaning in death; the death of people he has killed, his own looming mortality, and the destructive cycle he finds himself in.

The style

The End Of The City is outstandingly written. That said, it's certainly not a light read to pick up casually for a bit of a laugh. It's a reading experience you have to commit to, as the writing is dense and the story full of symbolic gestures that need a bit of contemplation. To be honest, I spent the first probably quarter of the book thinking right, I'm going to have to read this again, I'm pretty sure I've missed stuff. It's tough to flip back through the pages when you're on a kindle, but I persevered and it was worth it.

The End Of The City is primarily character-based. The plot(s) are tied in with the development of each character and the overarching themes, so there's a lot going on from an internal perspective. The story is written in the first person, and the most stand out thing about the writing is the authenticity of the narrative voice. It's very difficult to write honestly from the point of view of a teen, and I imagine equally as difficult to write from the point of view of a narrative representation of a hitman (just read the book, you'll get what I mean). But Bendernagal smashes it right out of the park. Ben Moor has just the right amount of self awareness, just the right amount of awkwardness, just the right amount of internal monologue and justification. This is a teenager, battling with the big issues in his life while trying not to be too 'emo'. He addresses the reader in a touchingly honest, authentic manner, maintaining a veneer of bravado while revealing himself as a three dimensional person. I always have concerns about stories written about characters of this age – they're difficult to write – but no concerns here. Ben Moor is a real, proper teenager.

The other thing worth mentioning as outstanding in the story is the way Bendernagel deals with themes of loss and violence. These can be tied in with notions of masculinity, how it's changing, and how it affects the development and self-perception of teenagers and men. It also examines the way 9:11 affected the psyche of America, collectively and individually. I don't want to go into a whole big analysis, but I could. It definitely provided food for thought.

Who is this book for?

Looking for something to sink your teeth into and make you think? It's worth a read. And then probably another one to pick up the bits you missed.

In short

Title: The End Of The City
Author: David Bendernagel
Publisher: Pink Fish Press
ISBN: 0615813674
Year published: 2014
Pages: 252
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
Review Type: