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The End of the World as We Know It: Scenes from a Life Hardcover – March 23, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1ST edition (March 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565124812
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565124813
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,121,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Goolrick begins his debut work with a moment he hopes will bring him closure—returning to his Southern home to bury his abusive father. Peeling away the family's carefully constructed facade like the layers of an onion, this brave memoir tells of a childhood marred by alcoholism and an adulthood mired in loneliness, substance abuse and self-mutilation. The son of an indolent college professor and an unfulfilled, Valium-placated housewife, Goolrick grows up in a 1950s home where lavish cocktail parties and false bourgeois airs are sacred, and disclosing the family's slightest imperfection is sinful. Goolrick is never forgiven for his own minor trespasses, despite showering his struggling, status-hungry parents with extravagant gifts (he even resorts to buying them the family home they could never afford to own). Eventually it is revealed that their unhealthy dynamic and Goolrick's attempted suicide stem largely from a single, life-altering incident: his rape by his drunken father at the age of four. In the end, Goolrick has written a moving, unflinchingly rendered story of how the past can haunt a life. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

"If you don't receive love from the ones who are meant to love you," writes Goolrick toward the end of his engrossing memoir, "you will never stop looking for it." He opens the window into his lonely life in small increments, beginning with parents whose lives revolved around the cocktail hour. After the guests departed, bitterness and depression hung over the house, and love for one another was never expressed. Goolrick moves on to his own heavy drinking and the death wish that drove him to slit his wrist on his thirty-fifth birthday. He cuts himself daily for two months, then lands in the "loony bin," where the "viciousness and multiplicity" of his cuts make him a star. Finally Goolrick confides the horrific experience of being raped by his drunken father at age four, his mother watching but doing nothing. Goolrick knows he has never recovered; the reader only hopes that writing of his story will bring him some small measure of peace. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Most of my life has been fairly thoroughly explored in my earlier memoir, THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT. I was born in a small university town in Virginia, a town in which, besides teaching, the chief preoccupations were drinking bourbon and telling complex anecdotes, stories about people who lived down the road, stories about ancestors who had died a hundred years before. For southerners, the past is as real as the present; it is not even past, as Faulkner said.

I went to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and then lived in Europe for several years, thinking that I would be an actor or a painter, two things for which I had a passion that outran my talent. I wrote an early novel, and then my parents disinherited me, so I moved to New York, which is where small-town people move to do and say the things they can't do or say at home, and I ended up working in advertising, a profession that feeds on young people who have an amorphous talent and no particular focus.

Fired in my early fifties, the way people are in advertising, I tried to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, and I came back around to the pastime that had filled the days and nights of my childhood: telling complex anecdotes about the living and the dead. I think, when we read, we relish and devour remarkable voices, but these are, in the end, stories we remember.

I live in a tiny town in Virginia in a great old farmhouse on a wide and serene river with my dog, whose name is Preacher. Since he has other interests besides listening to my stories, I tell them to you.

Customer Reviews

The book is beautifully written.
Jill Meyer
The ensuing process would explain why seemingly good people -- the people we love and need -- do bad things.
Marjorie Meyerle
I would recommend reading this book after reading the author's other books.
joy horn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By R.G. Masons on March 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderfully constructed story of a harrowing Southern childhood. Mr. Goolrick builds his story sentence by elegant sentence, and even in the face of the most horrible childhood events manages remarkable compassion toward his parents and the way they've ruined his life. The book is filled with warmth and humor as well, and many keen-eyed observations of a well-bred American family gone wildy wrong. Moving and inspiring, you'll think about this book after you turn the last page.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By D. Carr on April 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was drawn to this book because it seemed to be the most recent addition to the "dysfunctional family" genre which often captivates me. However, this memoir transcends this genre in that it is not written for shock value or the easy laugh, but appears to be a genuine attempt to evoke an era in the south, and to come to terms with a life that should have been glorious, but was horrific. Robert Goolrick's parents are perhaps the guiltiest, most wrong-headed, unforgiveable couple that have graced the pages of literature. Their actions and their decision about how to deal with their sensitive, gifted child wrought such power and devastation. Here, Robert Goolrick articulates in a way that is both gripping and poetic, how one human being has navigated a difficult and confusing life and continues to live it, I would say, heroically. It is fortunate for the reader that although his parents have shredded his psyche they were unable to obliterate his honesty or his talent.
This book reminds me of Susan Minot's wonderful fictional account of her childhood, Monkeys.
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63 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Lisa M. Dunlap on March 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I finished my father's copy of Mr. Goolrick's book with in a few hours of picking it up. It is, quite simply, engrossing. Mr. Goolrick's story is sometimes incredibly difficult to read due to it's emotional intensity and rawness. He does not censor, dilute, or gloss over any of the emotions or events of his life.

For me, one of the more interesting aspects of this book is that most of it is set in my hometown. I recognized a few of the people on these pages (including Mrs. Lachman's crazy son who is still crazy and terrified me as a child. Still does, to be honest. A couple of months ago, he almost blew up his house.).

"The End of the World as We Know It" is a brutally honest, brave book. If you have ties to Lexington, have fun playing spot the town eccentrics. Lord knows, we have our fair share.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There are all kinds of beatings. Among the "better" classes, belts and fists are unthinkable. The weapon of choice is generally words, but it can veer into sexual abuse. And the damage is generally to a child's self-esteem and sense of safety.

The worst thing about these assaults? The parents "know better." Indeed, if they heard about a neighbor's child being verbally or sexually abused, they'd be shocked. Who knows? They might even intervene.

So why are these parents blind to their own cruelty?

They're drunk.

"My father died because he drank too much." That's the first sentence of Robert Goolrick's memoir. The second? "Six years before, my mother had died because she drank too much." The third? "I drank too much."

If you drink, if you are the child of a drunk or have drunks among your family and friends, this is not shocking news to you --- alcohol is a kind of misery that seems to love company.

But even if drunks are your lot, I doubt you know the kind of depravity that Goolrick describes here. "My mother and father presented a perfect picture to the world, a happy, witty, charming young couple who were madly in love, and did nothing but have fun," he writes. And so it was. His father was Virginia gentry, a college history professor. His mother was a beauty, well read, a lady; she wore gloves and powder. At the Goolricks' cocktail parties, they served cheese straws and cucumber sandwiches, and the guests laughed heartily at their stories.

And his father ended up with rats cavorting on the Persian carpets.

"Somebody once said to me that all families were either about the parents or about the children," Goolrick notes. "Ours was about their parents.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Harvey L. Handley on February 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
A review in the form of a mini-memoir: Killing time in an airport newsstand recently, I saw a novel "by Robert Goolrick." Not a common name; I looked for a picture and said, "Yes, that's Robbie Goolrick all right." When I got home, I looked on Amazon and read about this book. I bought it the next day, but it was six weeks before I could bring myself to open it.

As a college senior in Lexington I had more to do than most with the "townies," because theater was what I did, and my all-male school relied on locals to play the women's parts. Thus I got to know the three brilliant Goolrick kids: Chester B. Jr., always called just "B"; Robbie who wrote this book; and their preternaturally-mature-for-her-age little sister Lindlay. I don't think I was in their home, and met their parents, more than once; but for a middle-class California kid bowled over by the quirky sophistication of the Southern gentry, once was enough.

And then, 40 years later, to read this book and find out what was behind this glittering surface . . . I can't imagine anyone reading this book and not being shaken to the core, but I can't find the words for its impact on me.
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