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The End of the World as We Know It: Scenes from a Life

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  1,480 Ratings  ·  325 Reviews
It was the 1950s, a time of calm, a time when all things were new and everything seemed possible. A few years before, a noble war had been won, and now life had returned to normal.

For one little boy, however, life had become anything but "normal."

To all appearances, he and his family lived an almost idyllic life. The father was a respected professor, the mother a witty
Paperback, 227 pages
Published April 15th 2008 by Algonquin Books (first published January 1st 2007)
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Rating details
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May 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: memoir readers
Shelves: nonfiction
I heard Mr. Goolrick on my local NPR affiliate and was intrigued by his story. The book is beautifully written, a fine description of the world of the white South. Great details, a boozy, journey through childhood memory.

The complaint of other reviewers that this book was too depressive and negative isn't one I share. In fact, I was somewhat refreshed to read a family memoir that doesn't wrap things up in a la-la-la happy fashion at the end. Goolrick is devasted by the events of his past and he
Apr 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-memoirs
Whenever I have the possibly perverse desire to be wrong, I only have to use a superlative. Sooner -- perhaps immediately -- or later, I can see that I was wrong. I mention this because of my tendency to think that the last disturbing memoir that I've read is the MOST disturbing of all -- all that preceded it, all that will follow it. Give me a memoir co-starring incompetent, selfish, negligent, and/or abusive parents; and upon finishing it, I'm ready to say: "Off with their heads -- but only af ...more
Aug 07, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps the people who wrote reviews for the back cover of this book read something completely different than what I checked out from the library, but who knows? The first third of the book was wonderful (perhaps this is all you have to read to write a back cover review) and Mr. Goolrick really set the backdrop for telling his life as he remembers growing up in Virginia in another era. I was actually estatic for thinking that perhaps I picked a "sleeper" of a book, but then all of a sudden thing ...more
Badly Drawn Girl

I didn't know what I was getting into when I picked up this book. It was like I picked up a ticking bomb without knowing it. I grew up in a chaotic, dysfunctional family where I never felt safe. I was constantly trying to crack the code and make things better in my family. Eventually I just wished I wasn't born at all. I've blocked out most of my childhood. Reading Robert Goolrick's book brought back so many memories, memories I didn't know I would ever recover. I actually had to write him and l
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I can't say that I loved this book. It is much too raw, much too explicit, much too painful to love it. But Goolrick's writing is amazing, and you want to think it's a novel, something that couldn't have possibly happened to someone, yet you remember it's his own memoirs, and your heart breaks all over again for him, for his stolen childhood, for his parents' cruelty, for his failed relationships, for the way he found cutting as a way of release and relief. It is mind-boggling to know that in th ...more
Miriam Mitchell
I'm only giving this book 3 stars only because any normal person couldn't say "I loved it" because everything about it is so awful. Not the writing, I mean, but all of the events in the memoir. Goolrick's memories are so raw, fresh, and gritty, the reader can actually feel the pain. That is what I really loved about the book. In other memoirs that I have read, I thought, oh OK that happened, and that sucks, but I never actually had gut wrenching pain from it. If you want to truly know what it fe ...more
Lisa  Carlson
Aug 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mature readers
Recommended to Lisa by: heard the author give a interview
Shelves: memoir
I recently listened to an interview with Robert Goolrick on a Twin Cities radio show and it's obvious he is a sensitive, intelligent and elegant man. He was promoting his latest book and mentioned how this memoir was published. His story reads like a dream in parts and clearly a nightmare in others; it's a testament to exceptionally delusional parenting on one hand. I'm always in utter disbelief the way people come to parent. It's not okay to rob your children of devotion, love, attention and pr ...more
Unlike many of the readers of this book here, the first third of the book didn't really do much for me. I've read tales of alcoholic parents before and didn't want to read a full book of more of the same. But just about the time I was about to put the book down for good the tone and intimacy of the tale shifted. That's not to say that it got easier to read, because that's definitely not the case, but Goolrick began to draw me closer to the reality of a life torn to bits by the things he experien ...more
Jun 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps the best description of what depression feels like that I have ever read...

"There is so much that happens to the human heart that is in the realm of the unthinkable, the unknowable, the unbearable. How most people carry on is a mystery. What they talk about at supper. How they can stand to sit in front of a TV from eight until Leno every night. How they can think bowling is fun. How they choose their neckties. How they bear the weight of everyday life without screaming...How life goes in
Robert Goolrick's memoir "THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT" reads as much as a confessional as it does a way for him to understand himself, his family, and the influence -- both good and ill -- his parents exerted on him throughout his life. Goolrich grew up in Virginia during the 1950s and 1960s. His parents came from a genteel, privileged background in the South, which gave them both a sense of exaggerated self-importance. On the surface, they seemed to fit the image of a successful couple w ...more
Apr 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
some members of my book club complained that this book was not "well-written." i agree The End of the World As We Know It didn't follow traditional literary method, BUT i don't think writing "great literature" was his intent. (if you read his novel, A Reliable Wife, you'd see that Robert Goolrick is indeed a masterful storyteller.) both of these books have rec'd high praise from many sources including NYT and NPR.

THIS book is a memoir, a history and a recounting of an intensely deep personal 50
Umm Layth
[Please note there are spoilers]

Very sad! I'll admit that it was difficult getting through the beginning because of the amount of detail and because I'm not used to the style in which he writes. At the same time, his style is what makes this special and allows it to feel real. It is important to get through the beginning because it is Robert's unique way of sharing his story. He shares many random memories that lead us to some of the most painful parts and allows us to see how these memories cam
Jun 29, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had a really difficult time coming up with an accurate review for this memoir. As far as memoirs go, this one struck me as simply mediocre for several reasons. One of my primary issues with the book was the way it was arranged. The stories were scattered and all over the place and there was no real chronological order. Though I am sympathetic with the author and his plight, I was left reading his memoir with more questions than answers. I really wish the novel had been arranged differently and ...more
Jul 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Goolrick’s memoir reads more like a collection of essays rather than a chronological account of his life featuring mostly reflections from his youth.

His parents were products of their time when men were the sole breadwinners and women stayed home and took care of the house and children. Both of his parents were alcoholics but successfully kept up proper societal appearances.

The material in this book is not for the weak of heart. Goolrick’s life was tragic and the suffering and anguish raw, even
Stella Fouts
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
aaaarrgh Why do the best reads have to be so ugly? I wanted to put this story down, especially when I sensed where it was heading, but I couldn't. Not until the bitter end. Trust me. You'll feel this deep in your soul if you can manage to stay with it.
Eric Klee
Apr 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After reading the novel "A Reliable Wife," I wanted to go back and read Goolrick's memoir, which was published first (but written second). I found it fascinating that he started publishing so late in life, so I wanted to see what he was about. I wasn't crazy for the title of the memoir, though, mostly because it reminded me of the old R.E.M. song and I couldn't get the tune out of my head.

I enjoyed reading many of the recollections of Goolrick's past. I was intrigued by his descriptions of his
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was the 1950's, a time of calm, a time when all things were new and everything seemed possible. A few years before, a noble war had been won, and now life had returned to normal.
For one little boy, however, life had become anything but "normal."
To all appearances, he and his family lived an almost idyllic life. the father was a respected professor, the mother a witty and elegant lady, someone everyone loved. They were parents to three bright, smiling children:two boys, and a girl. To all appe
Patti SmithPerazzo
Who doesn't love a memoir that conjures up scenes that could be plucked straight from our own youth? Goolrick is about 13 years older than I am, yet I remember so many things he describes in full sensory detail, from my own growing up years. There is some amount of comfort in knowing there are others that remember some of the same things we do: mother ironing, life without television (not because it hadn't been invented yet), picnics where the kids played and the adults did adult things, like dr ...more
Allison Stark
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Paul Corrigan
Sep 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book several years ago and recently took it off the shelf to read again. It was a worthwhile experience the second time through. Mr. Goolrick writes about a small southern college town in which drinking and throwing dinner parties and maintaining an elegant facade are the principle pleasures. Surely any number of writers explore similar material, starting perhaps with John Cheever if not William Faulkner. What makes Goolrick stand out for me is how often his prose rises to the level ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009, bio
The stifling heat of The South in the Summer. Cocktails, the clothing and hairdos that go with the 1950s. Drunk parents. Never telling the family secrets. My kind of book. Sometimes. This book caught me by surprise. It was at once really funny and a terrible, terrible heartbreaking. Very well written and witty. It rambles toward the end but I couldn't blame him. You might ramble too if it happened to you. I am grateful that I fell into this story. This was a fast, atmospheric walk down memory la ...more
Melissa Fish
Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I'm craaaaazy in love with this author and this was the hardest thing I've ever had to read. By page 36, I was openly weeping and I can't even verbalize the fear in my heart I have now for humanity. Yeah. That book hurt. Don't read it.
Aug 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book was very hard to read but worth getting through. It haunts you for a long time after reading it. Raw, shocking, sad, and powerful.
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
INCREDIBLE tale of alcoholism and mental illness and family dysfunction! The author, the biographer I should say, is a friend of a friends. LOVED THIS BOOK.
Trigger warning: child rape in graphic detail! Holy shit!

So I love my-life-was-miserable memoirs, and I have no idea how this one made it onto my to-read list, so I had no idea what it was in for. But this was hard even for me, mostly because things are going along "normally" for this type of book - my parents were alcoholics, my brother and I both wound up in the mental hospital, I tried to kill myself, etc. etc., and then blammo - hardcore out of the blue detail about how his dad raped him whe
Kira FlowerChild
If this book had an editor, and I assume it did since it was published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, he/she did not do a very good job, in my opinion. The last fifty pages of this books are really the only ones worth reading. Some chapters are actual narration. Other chapters are comma-spliced stream-of-consciousness with single sentences going on for literally four to six pages. The one advantage to those chapters is they are a sure cure for insomnia. I can't remember how many times I stru ...more
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A difficult but beautifully written tale of a seemingly "story book" but dysfunctional family. Though some other reviewers disliked the rambling style and some jumping about in time, I felt this was an effective device for capturing the author's frame of mind and thought process about his family and events. Growing up in the 50's and 60's, he describes many now forgotten details of those times-fun to recall. And the fun is needed, along with several other rather darkly humorous incidents, as the ...more
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbt-have-reads
absolutely breathtaking. it's possible that or wasn't the best decision to read it at work, because I relate so much. to hear someone else talk about this particular brand of fucked up family dynamic and trauma stole the life from me for a bit because, yes, me too. Robert, you did the right thing in sharing this because it's really a wonderful and terrible thing to know that someone else has been where I stand.
as for the writing, well. can I use breathtaking again? it was amazing. what a fantas
Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very hard to come up with a rating on this book. There's profanity but not a lot but it is a horrible read. The parents were only for themselves, and the father hated his son. You read about good times, bad times and even worse times and the life of a nearly destroyed boy and the adult he grew up to be. Can I recommend this book? Very hard to say, definitely a story I shouldn't have read.
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Madison Mega-Mara...: #10 The End of the World 1 4 Mar 08, 2015 10:24AM  
The End The World As We Know It.... 1 18 Jul 18, 2008 11:43AM  
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Robert Goolrick was born in a small town in Virginia and attended John Hopkins University.

Fired after 30 years in the advertising business, Goolrick wrote his memoir, The End of the World as We Know It: Scenes from a Life. A Reliable Wife is his first novel.

Goolrick currently lives in New York City.
More about Robert Goolrick

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“If you don't receive love from the ones who are meant to love you, you will never stop looking for it.” 927 likes
“There is an ache in my heart for the imagined beauty of a life I haven't had, from which I had been locked out, and it never goes away.” 413 likes
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