The end is always near, but it's never too late to live.
The End Is Near is a tale of childhood trauma, vengeance, and angelic interventions that charts one man's unusual journey toward forgiveness, self-acceptance, and enlightenment.
On his forty-fifth birthday, as his hostages slept and state police prepared to take him by force, Nathan Huffnagle placed the cold circle of a shotgun barrel beneath his chin and gripped the trigger. The end was near. Or so he believed.
His last act--a proper revenge upon his childhood nemesis, Randy Trent--had deteriorated into a farcical hostage standoff beset by a media circus, a combustible romantic rivalry among his captives, and the undeniable reality that Randy Trent, a vicious thug and bully twenty-five years before, had grown up to become a man too humble, too good, too exasperatingly decent to kill.
Nathan pulled the trigger. And his life began again.
Weeks later, Nathan wakes in a hospital bed to a new assignment, delivered to him by a series of seemingly angelic visitors. Nathan must write a new suicide journal on the backs of the pages of a court transcript of his previous suicide journal. And this time, he must tell the truth, the painful and possibly liberating truths he was forced to confront about himself during the hostage situation.
Is Nathan up to the task? Or is he losing what's left of his mind? Will his search for the truth grant him the death he seeks? Or a new lease on life? The End Is Near consists of both of Nathan's journals, presented in alternating entries, each journal commenting wryly on the other, each generating its own suspense, and each leading to a surprising conclusion. Infused with humor and sadness, restless longing and regret, flights of fantasy and the sheer damnable contrariness of real life, The End Is Near is a tale of redemption like none you've read before.
Harry Ramble is ongoing, unresolved. He used to come in here sometimes; I ain’t seen him around. He’s a ringing telephone in a vacant apartment. He’s the root of the problem. He’s the wide band of static at the top of the dial. Listen. Listen closely. There. Do you hear that?
Nathan Huffnagle lies in a hospital bed. To his surprise and possible dismay, he has strange visitors from another world. I personally know about angels - both angels of death and Heavenly angels- for both have visited me. For sure, dear reader - time is short on this earth for all of us. We never know when our life will turn on a dime... In the End is Near, Nathan winds up in the hospital from a gunshot wound, he is holding hostages at gunpoint in the stockroom of an automobile shop. It is then that he decides to take his own life while the hostages sleep. He puts the muzzle of the rifle against his chin and pulls the trigger. Nathan's suicide attempt is not successful in killing him instantly and leaves him with only half a face. He is visited in the hospital by Angels of Death and is persuaded to write about his life before his suicide attempt. Nathan had already written a journal about his life before his suicide attempt. He addressed his suicide journal to the police and the family of Randy Trent. He needed to tell why he decided to harass and kill Randy Trent. And, here begins a very interesting journey that goes backward, sideways and forward with intriguing action and interesting characters. I hope you get a chance to read The End is Near to find out if Nathan receives his desires and if he receives redemption
Jeannie Walker Award Winning Author of "I Saw the Light" - A True Story of a Near Death Experience
What a great book. It's a bit daunting at first, given the hero's situation (not the prose -- it's excellent -- sharp, funny, and very readable, making this a literary novel that is not obnoxiously so). The narrative structure, with its three threads ultimately converging, is brilliant. This is really good, darkly comic writing that is not the least bit pretentious. I particularly enjoyed the little send-ups of ad writing and television coverage, but the heart of this book lies in watching the main character and his nemesis navigate the essential traumas of childhood far into adulthood. A surprisingly hopeful book, ultimately. Highly recommended!
The End Is Near is a work of literary fiction focusing on the sad-sack character of Nathan Huffnagle -- his tragic past, his weird present, and his mysterious and possibly very short future. The novel opens with Nathan in the hospital. He's landed there following a botched attempt at suicide by shotgun. Left without the lower part of his face, Nathan has been reduced to writing down everything he wants to say. If this sounds macabre, it is, but that's not the novel's only mood. At turns appalling, funny, sad, and uplifting, The End Is Near is far from a one-trick pony.
Ramble's narrative artfully weaves Nathan's story out of three strands: his present-day interactions in the hospital with visitors, doctors, nurses, and what Nathan believes to be ghosts and Death itself; the "suicide journal" he kept leading up to his attempt; and a new document he writes at the behest of his ghosts, one in which he tries to uncover a truer account of why his life has turned out so badly. These three sources work wonderfully together: the suicide journal tells the story of Nathan's wretched childhood -- his dysfunctional family and his sadistic torment at the hands of a bully named Randy Trent. The new narrative tells the story of how Nathan took Randy and several others hostage in an auto-parts store and came to the point of suicide. The hospital interactions provide motivation and reveal Nathan's changing states of mind and self-understanding. Ramble's ability to bring these different strands -- each with its different tone -- together so clearly and productively is extremely impressive. This is novel-crafting at its best.
As Nathan's new narrative takes shape, we get to know both him and Randy Trent much better. As expected, the situation is not as simple as the bully-and-his-victim cliché would suggest. I won't say more, here, lest I spoil your read, except to admire Ramble's utter refusal of easy answers and cheap redemption. His characters feel deeply real in their combination of understanding and lack thereof, in their ability and inability to articulate their thoughts and feelings. Even relatively minor figures, such as Nathan's mother and sister, have a wonderful tangibleness -- we don't get to know them well but are left feeling as though they're real people we glimpsed in passing. As with Ramble's ability to construct narrative, his ability to create character it stunning. This is a book that reminds us to look for the admirable in unexpected places: in resiliency; in the halting growth of self-knowledge; in plain-spokenness; and in the ability to draw a moral line somewhere, even if it's not in the most optimal place.
I also greatly admire Ramble's work with setting. In writing his suicide journal, Nathan tends to visit the sites of his childhood miseries. Each of these locations is described with subtlety and realism, and they're all set in the larger environment of a depressed post-industrial town, a hopeful Levittown gone to rot and despair. Ramble doesn't have to overcook Nathan's story by spelling out its questioning of the platitudes of family and community; his setting does it for him.
Ramble's prose is excellent -- clear, straightforward, and error-free. Formatting and editing are flawless. I would suggest adjusting the book's cover for the electronic environment: the small, pale title and author name are probably fine for a paperback, but are illegible on screen.
Harry Ramble's End Is Near is outstanding. I recommend it in the highest possible terms.
This review has been cross-posted from The Active Voice. I did not receive a free copy of this book.
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.
At the ripe middling age of forty-five, Nathan Huffnagle completed a body of work he termed to be his "suicide journal," and while his hostages slept on, he slid the muzzle of a rifle beneath his chin. Moments later, he pulled the trigger. To his dismay, instead of death, he was greeted by apparitions who pushed him to fill in the blanks that his journal left behind. Just who was Nathan Huffnagle, and why was he holding hostages in the stockroom of a small auto shop? Let us find out.
When I first read the summary for this novel, I expected a new-age tale about rebirth. (Blame the line, "And his life began again.") Instead I found an adventure of a different sort, one that took place mostly in the musings and limited actions of a character stuck on his deathbed, half of his face lost to intentional gunfire. Although heavier than I anticipated, the novel truly struck a chord as Nathan's struggles, both internal and external, revealed something critical about the human condition: its need to interpret and understand. From bullying to stalking to childish pranks, his experiences and choices seemed almost familiar—not because I like to indulge in a little B&E after work, mind you, but because his bewilderment, his pain, and later, his jadedness, came across as a natural progression. His feelings, in short, felt genuine, which makes all the difference when reading the written works of an author who occasionally waxes pontifical.
The book itself is a mishmash of suicide journal entries, present-day narrative, and penned "discussions" with the representatives of Death, as it were. Though initially confusing, I eventually grew accustomed to the shifts. Without the journal entries, present-day conversations would make little sense, and so the mixing of the two was a clever literary choice. In both cases, Ramble proves that his characters are able to get out of their own way in terms of word choice and the communication of ideas. The text gives a very clear sense of individual personalities, even if some of it made me question the sanity of the narrator. I'm certain that that was the point.
The End Is Near certainly isn't the first book to address deathbed discoveries and bargains with the so-called Grim Reaper, but it is well worth reading if you like characterization and that elusive sense of transformation that comes from completing a thoughtfully written work.
Hide and Read (Review copy provided by the author)
Book Title: The End is Near Author: Harry Ramble Publisher: Ebb Press, LLC ISBN: 9780981650227 Reviewed by Michele Tater for The Couch Tater Review
Hope is a necessity for normal life and the major weapon against the suicide impulse. ~ Karl A. Menninger
Nathan Huffnagle, a man in his forties, is just a plain unhappy person. He has never married, has no kids, and has the most boring of jobs. Nathan becomes sick and tired of this so-called life he has made for himself. After his mother dies he returns home to take care of business. Not just the depressing business of settling his mom's affairs, but finishing his, literally. Nathan has decided to end it all, because of the crappy hand life has dealt him, but after a time in the neighborhood tavern, he decides to take someone with him on his little death trip. Really what is driving his man to go to such a final solution to his problems? Could something in his past that seems to haunt him all his life be the reason? Is it really found in the journal he wants to leave behind for all to read?
Instead of this book being a “who done it” I would call it a “how come” novel. How come this man has made the decisions he has made?
Written in the first person this book, I found, to be full of emotion and feeling. This is especially felt in describing the shocking and sickening details of the many events of bullying that the main character had to endure. The author uses directness and boldness to get across the seriousness of how being belittled through someones life can affect a person, as they become damaged adults. The bullied sometimes become at odds with the ghosts of their past, as Nathan did in this story. Mr. Ramble is ingenious in allowing the reader get inside Nathan's head—to feel his pain and sadness; he took a complex situation and made it simpler to understand by expounding the details. I can not say enough on how truly great and eye opening this book was for me—highly recommended!
In 'The End is Near', the reader is tossed back and forth between Nathan Huffnagle's hospital bed and his suicide journal. That's right - suicide journal. You see, Nathan had too much to say to just leave a note. Sadly for Nathan, the whole suicide thing didn't really go so well.
In the first line, we are told "The first Angel of Death came to me on my seventh day here." I have to say, the Angels of Death were my favorite characters in the noel. I loved their down to earth attitude and the comic relief they brought to the story.
Harry Ramble's writing style in this book, is straight forward and liberally sprinkled with sarcastic humour and irony. In fact, even when something goes right for Nathan, it still manages, somehow, to go wrong. The poor guy!
It was refreshingly different the way Mr. Ramble managed to make the reader a participating character in the book. I relished my role and it drew me more personally into the story.
'The End is Near' held one big negative for me. (and really this is a testament to the author's ability with descriptive narrative). I have huge issues with "man's inhumanity to man" as a theme. As such, the extraordinarily well written bullying scenes literally made me sick to my stomach. Don't, necessarily, let this turn you off the book. I felt the same way about 'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini and often can't watch the evening news for the same reason.
The end of the novel was both a surprise and totally consistent with the story. I always try to guess the ending as I read and have to confess I was way off base with my guess this time. Hence the surprise. The irony of the ending, however, meshed well with the rest of the narrative.
I didn't grow to like Nathan or his nemesis, Randy, very much but, for the most part, I enjoyed reading their story.
There are two kinds of books in the world: those that entertain, and those that teach you something.
Okay, I lied, although I daresay many people believe this. A constant theme that keeps popping up in my reviews is that books intended to entertain can also teach us something - if we let them. Depending on the book, we might learn about history, science, politics, geography, or many other subjects, but most often it is about the human condition, whether helping us better understand ourselves or others.
Calling a book like this entertaining seems wrong. On the surface, it is serious, grappling with questions of life and death. Yet it is still entertaining. There is the suspense of how and why Nathan concluded that death was preferable to life. There is the mystery of how the book will end. Humor, often dark humor, is scattered throughout the book.
However, you can't read the description of this book without reasonably concluding that if there are only two kinds of books, this must be one that teaches you something. It does. Although I hope none of you are contemplating murder or suicide, I daresay Nathan's fictional experiences are best suited to teach you about yourself. Most of Nathan's many faults are those we all have, just not to the extremes that he does. When you're done reading "The End is Near," hold up the mirror and see if you can't learn something about personal responsibility and judging others, to name just two.
**Originally written for "Books and Pals" book blog. May have received a free review copy. **