Jason Pettus's Reviews > The End As I Know It: A Novel of Millennial Anxiety

The End As I Know It by Kevin Shay
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Jul 04, 2007

really liked it
Read in June, 2007

(Full review can be found at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:].)

Okay, I'll be the first to admit it (or maybe not the first, but still) -- that as an overeducated intellectual with a strong dislike for most of humanity, there are moments (lots of moments) where I can get myself worked up into a tizzy over things I probably shouldn't be getting that worked up over, and about which in any case I can't do anything anyway. Global warming? The end is nigh! Police brutality? Humanity is a bunch of savage animals! George W. Bush? Cheese and Rice, don't even get me started! It's the biggest problem with being an intelligent person, in fact; that the sheer stupidity on display all around you at every moment of the day is enough to drive a smart person crazy sometimes, if a smart person allows themselves to be affected to such an extent.

So thank God, then, for humorist and former McSweeney's editor Kevin Shay, who manages in his debut novel The End As I Know It to quite squarely take all us intellectual worrywarts down a couple of notches, but to do it in a smart-enough way himself to make it impossible to dismiss him as "yet another of the mouth-breathing swarm." Set at the end of 1998, the story takes a look at one Randall Knight, a touring children's musician and puppeteer who has unfortunately become rather obsessed with the brand-new so-called "Y2K" bug, whispers of which have started getting louder and louder on the dot-com-era web that he compulsively checks at every Kinko's he comes across on the road. How obsessed? Well, for one, he's quit his full-time job as a music teacher at a gifted grade school; and the reason he's done this is so he can make a cross-country road trip instead, alerting everyone he cares about concerning the looming end of the world, and hoping to convince them all to pull their money from their banks and join him in creating a group survivalist camp in the middle of the woods before it's too late.

It's this road trip, in fact, that takes up the majority of the book, and is what saves The End As I Know It from being a one-trick pony (as one would guess might happen in an entire novel about the Y2K bug); because as Shay so brilliantly points out throughout the storyline, there were all kinds of things for intellectual worrywarts to get obsessed by at the turn of the millennium, all of them fairly ridiculous and all of them with their own complicated series of code words and industry lingo. Witness...

--While in Chicago...
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