Sometimes, artists compensate for a lack of something by going straight for the jugular with a toxic dose of shocking value — the idea being, I guess, that if they choose that route, you won?t be able pay attention to anything other than your overwhelmed senses. I think that?s the case with A.M. Homes? The End of Alice.
To be sure, Homes is always good for a bracing dose of the chilling, the startling, the grotesque. Describing the squirm-inducing with an icy remoteness is something she does very well.
But my chief gripe about this novel, composed of letters between an incarcerated child molester and a college-age girl with her eye on a 12-year-old boy, is that there is not much artistry or elegance to give meaning and weight to the appalling content. Homes makes sure to describe the traumas the main character underwent as a child, but doesn?t explore their impact. She goes into great detail about the crimes he committed, but stops her scenes just as they start to examine how they made the man feel. The character of the college girl (who, like the child molester, goes unnamed) seems like merely a means to relate child molestation in explicit detail; ultimately, we are left knowing very little about her.
By the time The End of Alice reached its crescendo, I felt like I had gotten all the cheap thrills I expected but no substance to make it memorable. It felt like reading someone?s criminal record without ever meeting the person it describes.