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An End to Etcetera


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An unusual and thoughtful novel, with a beautifully done unreliable narrator, or two.

We know from the very first line that 13-year-old Leal is troubled, but what else he is, is harder to determine. Selena, his therapist, tries to help him, but is she getting the whole story of Leal’s summer? Did he really spend it with the beautiful Diana and her menacing husband, Saul? And did he really drown his silent friend, Thuster, in the lake? As Selena deals with the break-up of her marriage and her pregnancy, she is going to discover that the answers to these questions are more disturbing than she could have imagined.


There’s an air of menace throughout, even though for much of the novel we aren’t sure who is dangerous, or endangered. It’s so well done that the writing remains atmospheric and subtle even when the plot moves from threat to action and brilliantly undercuts the details of the small town in summer which could otherwise have appeared generic. But then, nothing is generic in this unusual and thoughtful novel.


At the heart of it is the unreliable narrator. It is clear from very early on that Leal is not necessarily telling Selena the whole truth in their sessions, but Conklin only lets us see gradually the depth of his deception and self-deception. This is done not just through various characters’ revelations but also through the style of the writing itself. Leal’s accounts of his summer have a dreamlike, detached quality to them, subtly different from the well-observed material detail of the sections from Selena’s point of view.


In contrast to Leal’s story, Selena’s is pitched as grounded in reality, but you’re left wondering whether that is really true. Selena’s emails to her mentor, for example, start to take on a fabulous quality reminiscent of Leal’s narrative. Leal is the troubled kid, the storyteller, but in this novel, maybe everyone tells stories of how they would like the world to be, rather than how it is.


I can imagine literature students many years hence writing essays on this very question. To me, this is one of the determinants of a really good novel, that you go on thinking and wondering about it long after you’ve finished reading. I suspect I’ll be thinking about Leal and Selena for a long time yet.

Reviewed by

Elaine Graham-Leigh is an activist, historian and qualified accountant (because even radical movements need someone doing the books). Her science fiction novel, The Caduca, is out now and her stories have appeared in various zines. She lives in north London.

Chapter 1

About the author

B. Robert Conklin (he/him/his) lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he helps his spouse nurture the creativity of their three Gen-Z kids, who seem determined to take less-traveled paths of their own. In his leisure time, he takes nature walks with his pet ferrets and practices the craft of cartooning. view profile

Published on November 30, 2022

Published by Skip the Preface Publishing

90000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Mystery & Crime

Reviewed by