When I turned the last page and finished The End Is Near by Harry Ramble, I had to sit for a moment and contemplate — the novel, its poignant revelations, and life in general. It’s that kind of book. You don’t finish this one and blithely move on to your next adventure in prose. It sticks with you as you stand at the stove making dinner, creeps into your thoughts as you brush your teeth the next morning.
As the story begins you meet Nathan Huffnagle, and Nathan has screwed up — his own suicide, in fact. His story unfolds from there through two journals, one pre-and one post-suicide attempt, as he lies in a hospital bed with half of a face. Mr. Ramble deftly transitions between the journals and present day throughout the book to tell the tale of Nathan’s sad decline and attempt at redemption.
In his pre-suicide journal as he returns to his hometown to settle his mother’s estate, 45-year old Nathan has already decided to kill himself. A chance meeting with his high school nemesis and bully, Randy Trent, who he partly blames for the pathetic state of his life, puts a whole new spin on his plans. He decides to go out in a blaze of glory, taking Trent with him in a hostage/murder-suicide. He spends a week getting to know Randy and his world, stalking and harassing him, all the while pretending to be a newfound friend and conveniently ignoring the fact that Randy has evolved and grown while he has not. He sulks around the old haunts of his past, simmering in a cauldron of vitriol, hate, and self-pity.
The post-suicide journal, written from his hospital bed at the insistence of Death, is a journey in self-discovery as Nathan tries to explain his actions both to himself and the reader. Nathan isn’t finishing quite fast enough for Death, however, who sends a string of angels to hurry him along, and even pops in for a visit herself. You suspect, but never quite know for sure whether these “Angels of Death” are real or hallucinatory.
Be warned, Brave Reader, Mr. Ramble does not coddle you. He speaks directly to you through Nathan in a defiant, angry voice. Even the Angels of Death are matter-of-fact and very un-otherworldly. At the same time, you will find yourself touched: By his hostages’ attempts to save him and their visits to the hospital, his sister’s tough love, his own slowly dawning recognition that only he, himself, is responsible for how his life turned out and — well, I’ll leave the best part for you to discover yourself.
The author does a magnificent job of creating extremely real characters. They’re the neighbor next door, your aunt, the co-worker in the cube next to you. They’re nobody special and wonderfully unique and exceptional all at the same time. They’re human. They are you. They are me. I loved them all, even Nathan. Through them, you are forced to look at yourself and sometimes, for me anyway, the assessment isn’t so pretty.
Harry Ramble’s talent has me frustrated. How in the world, at the time of this writing, are there only seven reviews on Amazon for The End Is Near? Is the cover off-putting? It kinda was for me, just a little bit. I get it, but you have to think about it for a minute. Please read this book! Tell your friends to read it. It’s not an “easy” fun read, per se, but it is engaging, gripping, and thought-provoking. Mr. Ramble is a powerfully talented author and masterful storyteller, and I am honored that he asked me for a review.
You can follow Harry Ramble on Twitter, Facebook, or at his website: www.harryramble.com . Get it. Read it. Spread the word.