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The Living End

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  496 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
Killed during a senseless holdup, kindhearted Ellerbee finds himself on a whirlwind tour of a distressingly familiar theme park Heaven and inner-city Hell, where he learns the truth about God's love and wrath. Reprint. NYT.
Paperback, 133 pages
Published December 1st 1996 by Quill (first published 1979)
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(showing 1-30)
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Mar 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
years ago, during the height of oprah's book club reign of terror, greg proposed that i start my own club at our store, in which i would create a series of stickers to be put on books, larger and more offensive than oprah's, showing my feelings about the book.

basically - a thumbs-up for books i loved

a thumbs-down for books i hated:

and something like this:

for "who knew i would like this book with such an awful cover and not-very-interesting premise even though both greg and tom have been tellin
Apr 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Miracle Was My Metier

Watching the new Sherlock Holmes series on the BBC last night, I was intrigued by the script's repetition of the Americanism "It is what it is" as a designation of inevitability and fatefulness. C.S. Lewis had used the phrase in his 1943 Mere Christianity, possibly for the first time. But its origin is much more ancient. It is one of the many possible translations of one of the biblical identifiers of God. Hebrew is inherently metaphorical and has only limited ways to expres
Anthony Vacca
Oct 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A compact triptych of divine comedies that were first published separately in various literary journals, The Living End may not have the tight abs of a hardbody novel, but what it lacks in soundly structured narrative Elkin more than makes up for in prose that launches off the page like vitriolic V-2s of satirical wrath, all of which are target-locked onto the great Emperor of Ice-Cream in the sky, Mr. G Himself. In Elkinland, Heaven's a plastic theme park, Hell a purulent undercity, and sandwic ...more
Mar 21, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

Well that was different. If The Living End were a mathematical equation, it would look something like this:

Bible + (Voltaire / Postmodernism) x The Master and Margarita = The Living End.

Lots of linguistic gymnastics. A couple funny moments (not enough). Characterization all over the map (some good, one great, most plastic chess pieces).

You could look at this as an early entry in the bizarro genre. If you're a fan, you may find this at least a four star read.

For me, the most interesting a
Vit Babenco
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If Dante Alighieri wrote the sad Divine Comedy then Stanley Elkin contributed the hilarious Divine Tragedy. The merriment is on the black side of mirth though.
The first part of the book, The Conventional Wisdom is simply brilliant but further on The Living End becomes a bit inconsistent and uneven.
“Hell was the ultimate inner city. Its stinking sulfurous streets were unsafe. Everywhere Ellerbee looked he saw atrocities. Pointless, profitless muggings were commonplace; joyless rape that punished
Mar 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While its satirical targets may be a little dated, and a little unsubtle, there are enough flashes of brilliance and paragraphs of perfectly polished prose to make this well worth reading. A minor work by Elkin, to be sure, but a fun ride. I found the first section to be the least successful, so keep going if that does not float your boat...
Justin Evans
Dec 11, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The best satire is beautifully written (thus, consign almost all 'satire' to the garbage can); it can be enjoyed by people who disagree with the author on large matters (a religious person should enjoy The Living End, because they will agree on the smaller absurdities that Elkin deals with so well, and his treatment of God is nuanced rather than new-atheistical); and ultimately is less about what the book hates and more about loving something (here: humanity) that the object of hatred seems to b ...more
Sep 27, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: you
Recommended to Rand by: fate
Hell of a read.

Give me an atheist's depiction of the afterlife any day ±this one condenses the entire gestalt of the Divine Commedia into one snappy refusal to submit to the stricture of belief for the sake of belief. This is belief for the sake of life, for the sake of death, for the sake of cognition, for the sake of meaning, for the sake of meanness, for the sake of an inconvenient trip to the convenience store and a freak off-ing, an offering to all that is and was and ever could be to reme
Oct 20, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Every so often there is just a book that profoundly doesn't work for you. This is one of those books. And it's frustrating, because judging by reviews this is a much loved and appreciated work from a much loved and appreciated author and the description was propitious and the first third of the book was too and just sort of dissolved into a stylistic language exercise on eschatology. William Gass (the perfectly named critic) once compared Elkin's writing to jazz riffing and it's actual ...more
Leo Robertson
The first story/ chapter, The Conventional Wisdom, is gruesome, absurd, cool, enormously evocative, insightful, essential reading. Here it is! (probs no more than half an hour, so if you see this link, grab a coffee and read it- you won't regret!)

The second and third stories/chapters are re-hashes of the first's world-building, not that interesting, tiringly riff-packed and dialogue is mostly weak ripostes.
- Oh yeah?
- Who says?
- I'm God!
- You're a God? (h
Feb 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A big book succinctly told (only 143 pages in my edition). Don't be fooled by the "Inferno" references-- less and less about life and the living than about the metaphysics of death (there is a great collection of philosophical essays by this title, by the way) and consolation for those who think that the whole Santa's village aspect of Heaven is likely to bite them in the ass when they pass. Elkin's God is Old Testament/authorial, aware of his mistakes, and His creatures are all cranks and Augie ...more
Apr 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
I wonder, as Elkin's God does, about the audience for this book. It is a reductio ad absurdum of the biblical worldview. Elkin doesn't stop with the book being a reductio, a vast percentage of his sentences are reductios—that seems the main narrative strategy. Take a position and then keep piling on. He does a good job of exposing the absurdity. I wonder if he needed this much space, if it could have been done shorter, but then it is hard to take on eternity with a few short words. So who's the ...more
Dec 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Cait, fans of "The Third Policeman"
This is Dante's The Divine Comedy on acid. Lots of acid.

It starts out with Mr. Ellerbee, a kind-hearted man who, after getting shot at his own liquor shop, gets sent to hell for thinking that Heaven looks like a theme park. Part II follows Ladlehaus, one of Mr. Ellerbee's assailants, as he gets relocated to a Purgatory of sorts for putting God in the uncomfortable position of making a mistake. Finally, part III features Quiz, a groundskeeper who is randomly killed by God because he wouldn't let
There was an article not too long ago in our alternative paper out here in Seattle saying that the sign of a good bookstore is how many Stanley Elkin novels they stock. Beautifully laconic, this is a Divine Comedy for the David Foster Wallace set. Very funny, very Middle American, and very elegantly cynical.
Dec 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really have to say that I liked this one. The overall plot was a bit strange, but the writing was excellent. You have to love Elkin's wit. It might even be my favorite Elkin so far, though I've only read this and "Criers & Kibitzers, Kibitzers & Criers." It isn't exactly the most complex book I've read, but it was a lot of fun to read. High weirdness.
David Brooke
The first 50 pages are great...then he goes to Hell and it's a bore.
Apr 10, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had high expectations for “The Living End” – Elkin is a writer whose name I hear now and again in good contexts, and whose stories I’d enjoyed in the past, and the novel (or triptych, if you prefer the cover’s diagnosis) was on NPR’s desert island books thing a few years back, with a convincing essay about its greatness prompting me to pick up a copy.

So I was a little let down when I read it. It’s not bad, in any way, but it isn’t great, either. The premise – a Hieronymus Bosch-like trip thro
Jan 30, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was very, very disturbing and upsetting, but it sticks with you and makes you think about it, and I guess I see its purpose now. It takes commonly held religious beliefs and explores what the world would be like if they were literally true. (If you sin at all you go to hell, even if you're overall a good person and the 'sins' are petty and stupid, like taking names in vain, and hell is a burning fiery pit of eternal torture, etc etc etc.) I guess I would recommend this book because, af ...more
Brent Legault
An excuse to speechify, if you ask me. Wasn't the Catholic Church (and all its spawn) already a parady of itself -- even in nineteen eighty-whatever? Did Elkin really need to launch this rather limp missle? Had it not been for so promising an opening paragraph,* I would never have laid eyes over so unnecessary a novel as this.

*Ellerbee had been having a bad time of it. He'd had financial reversals. Change would slip out of his pockets and down into the crevices of other people's furniture. He dr
Jun 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone, even the semi-literate
Recommended to Jeremy by: People who've read it
This is the book that makes me want to write.

This is the perfect entry point into Elkin, a book that shows writers it's possible to write about EVERYTHING with humor, cynicism, and grace.

God is here, but he's an angry clown. The important players are like all of us, powerless in the face of steamroller life, but struggling through anyway.

After all, what other honorable choice is there?

A beautiful book.
Cait Poytress
Oct 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Cait by: Alasse
Shelves: owned, read-in-2012
This reminded me of a shorter and smarter version of a Christopher Moore novel (no disrespect intended; believe me, Moore is no dummy). Only 3 stars because I thought it was strongest in the beginning and weakened a bit as it progressed.
May 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this was lent to me after I browsed Elkin's short stories. it's deadpan humor reminds me of Vonnegut but lacks the cute-ness of Kurt's stuff. I laughed out at a few points, which rarely occurs when I'm reading.

I gave Elkin a try after reading Sam Lipsyte is a fan of him...
Will McGrath
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gonzo verbal jazz.
Barbara Jones Ozminkowski
Can't finish it. Too weird.
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Overrated. Even the performance by George G couldn't save it. Guano.
David Hodges
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a sketch, a send-up, a satire. It's divided into three parts, but that's where the similarity ends to Dante's Divine Comedy . . . except that it is actually a comedy about matters divine. God makes mistakes, it turns out, and Jesus is surly and unforgiving. Elkin writes like a house on fire that can't stop describing itself in short punchy sentences while it gasps for air. It's short because neither writer nor reader could sustain a longer version, but it's as entertaining as any Monty Pyth ...more
Feb 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my personal favorite books (I've read it or parts of it several times), and yet I don't recommend it to everyone. The story starts with Ellerbee, a liquor store owner, who gets shot and killed during a robbery. The book follows him and others through heaven and hell (literally) and introduces us to a hands-on, but quite petty God. That world view will turn a lot of people off. The author's take on God, Christ and Mother Mary are practically blasphemy, but I find it hysterical. The ...more
Jack Wolfe
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ya don't hear much about Elkin these days-- something about being a Dead White Male, probably, and something about how his Dead White sector, I mean the "American Jewish comedian prose stylist master guy" sector, is already inhabited by a few other Dead White Males (Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, etc) who also seem to be falling out of favor-- and I'm ready to say, based on "The Living End" alone, that that's a goddamn crime and a shame. This book is like an unholy mixture of Roth and Kurt Vonnegut: ...more
Christian Schwoerke
There’s no questioning the Elkin’s deft hand at humor and the comically turned phrase (or scene), but this short novel—as with his long and baggy novel George Mills—displays the same annoying loose and disconnected story-telling. The joke that is this novel’s basis is aimed at the reader, who is shuffled from one non-sequitur to another, all concerning aspects of hell and man’s hellish behavior. God (Stanley Elkin, the writer, the artist, et al.) complains at the end that he does not get the res ...more
Shawn Wilson
I wanted to give myself some time to contemplate this little journey I just took. Upon first impressions, I ended up not liking it very much. It starts out as almost a straight ahead narrative but about the time that he leads the reader into heaven (and hell) it really goes off the rails...and stays off the rails. I think the big let down was that I was enjoying his straight ahead narrative so much, that when we did dip into the metaphysical and all-over, seemingly omnipotent point of the book, ...more
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Stanley Lawrence Elkin was a Jewish American novelist, short story writer, and essayist. His extravagant, satirical fiction revolves around American consumerism, popular culture, and male-female relationships.

During his career, Elkin published ten novels, two volumes of novellas, two books of short stories, a collection of essays, and one (unproduced) screenplay. Elkin's work revolves about Americ
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“... Because I never found My audience," said God and annihilated, as Mother Mary and Christ and Lesefario and Flanoy and Quiz in their Y.M.C.A. seafront room in Piraeus and all Hell's troubled sighed, everything.” 1 likes
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