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At the Bottom of Everything

3.24  ·  Rating details ·  985 ratings  ·  140 reviews
A stunning novel of friendship, guilt, and madness: two friends, torn apart by a terrible secret, and the dark adventure that neither of them ever meant to embark upon.

It's been ten years since the "incident," and Adam has long decided he's better off without his former best friend, Thomas. Adam is working as a tutor, sleeping with the mother of a student, spending lonely
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 3rd 2013 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2013)
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3.24  · 
Rating details
 ·  985 ratings  ·  140 reviews

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Oct 31, 2013 rated it did not like it
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Adam and Thomas were best friends, although quite different. Thomas was small, skinny, nerdish, super-smart, but with poor social skills that kept him from having girlfriends and joining cliques or groups. Thomas had his jock persona that allowed him to move easily within groups in school. But, somehow, they ended up being inseparable, until a harrowing incident happened, which had started out as a prank but ended tragically. Subsequently, their friendship ended.

Ten years later, Adam runs into T
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
This novel is just chock full of all my favorite literary subjects: pain, guilt, truth, redemption. The hook is that Adam and Thomas, who had been best friends in school, are changed by an event. This event causes Adam to retreat from Thomas for ten years, until he is pulled back into Thomas's life by a plea from his parents. Please help our son.

I didn't know where the story of Adam and Thomas was going to take me, but the journey was riveting. At the Bottom of Everything is a short novel, but
Dec 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2014
Without much of a plot, this book depends on your liking two guys who share a certain history (accident they are secretly complicit in causing) and being willing to spend 200 pages suffering with them. Alas, I was not.

It all got a bit claustrophobic and self-obsessive to the point of navel gazing. The protagonist sets off to find his soul brother who crashes in Delhi to try to absolve his feelings of guilt. The reader tries to care. Tries. In so doing, the reader negotiates a lot of e-mail text
Taryn Pierson
Oct 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Maybe it's only because I haven't left the house since a library run on Monday night, but I am having a terrible time articulating why I liked this book. I mean, I'm pretty sure I liked it. When I'm not enthralled with what I'm reading, I tend to find my life suddenly super-busy, with many interesting television shows to watch and decoupage crafts to make. If a book is really bad, that's when you'll find me wet-mopping floors and cleaning the bathroom. I hate giving up on a book, to the point th ...more
May 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Ben Dolnick is a metaphor savant. His facility in this arena is awe-inspiring. He should set up a stand on the highway and sell everything that comes after the words "is like." He'd make a fortune. Case in point (and only one of dozens available in this novel):

"I'd known, of course, at some depth of my brain, that my trip would cover the anniversary of the accident, but the date had always been like a dead key on a piano; I did my best to play around it, or to speed on as if it didn't exist. But
Amy Warrick
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it

I wasn't sure how to rate this one; I enjoyed the narrator's voice and thought it well-written, but at the end I was all 'wtf?' and that always unsettles me. The story of two outcasts pairing up as boys is not a new one, and the story of their growing apart is not a new one; the addition of the - won't spoil it, but there are allusions to it early on - tragedy they share is also...not really all that new. The direction taken by the narrator's friend is all over the map though, and as the end ca
Mar 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
I feel bad about giving this novel just two stars. I do think that if Mr. Dolnick had been a bit more focused with certain events and had laid the novel out differently that it would have worked better.

This novel is about two friends, Adam and Thomas. Adam is the main protagonist of this novel. We find out that he lives in Washington D.C. and has never really been himself since an incident that involved him and his former best friend, Thomas.

It takes a while for the incident to become known to
Sep 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
The pacing of the story was quite slow and the plot towards the end seemed unrealistic at times, but unfolded in a way that made it seem within the realm of possibility and so kept me reading. I didn't feel that the characters were entirely distinct (Adam and Richard seemed confusingly similar to me in terms of personality and thinking style, especially in emails). The ending was also kind of lackluster.

What impressed me the most though, and why this book earned four stars from me is the absolut
Larry H
Sep 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Adam and Thomas were best friends when they were growing up in Washington, DC. Thomas was one of the brightest kids in their prep school—quirky, unique, aloof—and Adam welcomed the opportunity to try and crack his shell. Plus, Adam envied Thomas' stable home life, a mother committed to social justice and a father who values his intelligence.

Their friendship was fairly intense until high school, when Adam began focusing on sports, girls, and parties, and Thomas continued down his own path. Yet pa
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Just about all teens are engaged in some sort of hijinks and most make it through their teenage years just fine. But what if a mischievous teenage stunt went horribly wrong? From that point on, everything else would simply be epilogue.

That is the basis of Ben Dolnick’s new book and he has the chops to deliver a well-crafted storyline to the reader. The “action” focuses on the narrator, Adam – a decent kind of kid, nice-looking, popular. He befriends the smartest kid in the school, Thomas, who de
Oct 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
I feel like this book should have been better than it was, because I really think the author is a very good writer. The problem, in my opinion, was that the direction the story took really didn't do a lot for it.

The beginning of the book was really strong, as we're introduced to 26-year-old Adam, a guy reeling from a breakup and convinced he should be at a better place in his life than he currently is. Adam has a great, original voice, and I was really interested in his interactions with his tut
Sep 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was so caught up in this novel that I nearly missed a flight. Adam and Thomas were best friends in junior high until they are torn apart by Adam's rise in the complicated statuses of teenagers as well as a tragedy caused by a mistake the two made. Adam moves on to an Ivy League school and is now floundering as an adult when he is approached by Thomas' mother who begs Adam to rescue Thomas. Adam finally reluctantly agrees to look for Thomas in India where he undergoes numerous trials.
Dec 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Powerful look at what it's like to be close to death, and still keep going, practically dead, and still keep going. This book pulls you into a deep cave of introspection and kind of spits you out at the end, leaving you wondering why the hell your priorities are what they are.
Oct 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Story of guilt and friendship - intriguing, but not quite fully realized.
Sep 07, 2018 rated it liked it
it was confusing but good
Claire Mars
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good plot. Good read.
Jonny Carmack
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it

I left this book feeling pretty stumped.
I did not know much going into this one and decided to pick it up because of how much I loved the authors other work The Ghost Notebooks.

What this book is, at the core, is an exploration of grief and what guilt does to the human psyche. Our main character, Adam, has a best friend who is plagued by a traumatic event that he was involved in when they were teens. The story takes off from there.

The reader gets a haunting and (at times) hopeless tale of
Jess Playin
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Like Jonathan Safran Foer and John Green had a beautiful child this book is so good. The way Dolnick uses metaphors to express thoughts, sights, and sounds is insane. I absolutely loved the writing and it has become easily one of my favorite books of all time. If you haven't read it you're doing a disservice to yourself.
At the Bottom of Everything follows the story of Adam and his childhood friend Thomas. They made a horrible mistake in their youth that has followed both of them throughout thei
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patricia Geller
Mar 18, 2018 rated it liked it
There were parts of this book that I would of given a 5 to. The interactions between the two boys in middle school and high school rang really true. The part of the book that leads the reader on through a wild chase through India felt far fetched and tedious although the premise made sense. I think he writes well and am willing to look at his earlier books.
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
I made no connection to the characters by page 100 so it went back to the library.
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Pretty great on a number of levels, but not my experience with mental illness.
Randie Lin
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Funny. Serious. Enlightening. A search for relief from inner turmoil and found selflessness. The search for the self is continuous.
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Full review available at:

So… I just read the second of two books in the space of two months about: 1) kids growing up in DC who 2) had a best friend in 7th and 8th grade but 3) then they grew apart, and 4) then the former best friend disappeared after the estrangement, and 5) then the main character, in their late 20s, went abroad to an exotic locale 6) to try to find that former best friend and resolve the issues that plagued them as adolescents.

What are
Sep 08, 2013 rated it it was ok
Best friends in childhood share plenty of secrets, but most of the time it’s the mundane variety: who has a crush on whom, who stole some trifling thing, bits of gossip and petty crimes that seem deep or dark at the time. That’s not always the stuff of interesting fiction, though, so author Ben Dolnick has given his two main characters a far deeper and darker secret: shared responsibility for a tragic accident.
The book starts off with Adam Sanecki pining over his ex-girlfriend, and starting an a
How would you react if you made a terrible mistake? Would you admit it? Would you try to forget? Would you be able to live with the guilt? What might you do to atone for your actions? Might you turn to religion, or drugs, or charitable works, or simply try to have your mind slide past the bad parts and suppress your memories?

Adam and his best friend Thomas were 15, just goofing around one night, when something went terribly wrong. The story is narrated by Adam who hadn't seen Thomas for years be
Sep 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
I got a free ARC of this at Comic-Con in 2013. Which is pretty weird. Most books people gave out there were, understandably, sci-fi/fantasy. Though there were a handful of other genres. In this case, I'm not sure why the publisher thought the Comic-Con crowd might be the right audience for a weird personal literary novel.

Part 1 was pointless but interesting enough that it kept me engaged. But by the end, I'm left wondering what the point of most of it was. Even after the 8 or so years it's been
Jan 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
The early chapters of this novel alternate between protagonist Adam's childhood and his mid-20s. In his youth, he became close friends with Thomas, a bit of an outcast and a strange kid. Adam also becomes close to Thomas's very academic parents. As they get older, however, Adam drifts into new circles and begins to leave Thomas and their friendship behind. He just outgrows it and yearns for girls, sports, and popularity. This process speeds up after the boys are involved in a frightening and gui ...more
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
all over the damn place...and the transitions
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Ben Dolnick is the author of four novels: Zoology, You Know Who You Are, At the Bottom of Everything, and The Ghost Notebooks. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, and on NPR. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
“Driving yourself insane on the Internet is as easy as checking the weather.” 3 likes
“I had a slight feeling of babysitting as we walked soberly along together using all our old phrases, making all our old jokes, not quite feeling all our old fondness.” 0 likes
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