Coming of Age at the End of Days

Coming of Age at the End of Days

by Alice LaPlante

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Overview

From New York Times bestselling author Alice LaPlante comes a mesmerizing novel of destruction and renewal as a headstrong young woman joins a doomsday cult only to find salvation on an unexpected journey. LaPlante's acclaimed psychological thrillers are distinguished by their stunning synthesis of family drama and engrossing suspense, and Coming of Age at the End of Days delves even deeper into the creases of domestic life.

As an earnest young girl, Anna learned to fit in by hiding her quirks from her parents and friends. But at sixteen, a sudden depression takes hold of her life, and she loses her sense of self and purpose as well as the will to conform. Then the Bible-touting Goldschmidts move in next door. Anna is awestruck by both their charismatic son, Lars, and their fervent violent prophecies for the Tribulation at the End of Days.

Within months, Anna's life—her family, her home, her very identity—will undergo profound change. Yet when her newfound beliefs and misguided convictions bear irrevocable consequences, she must find the strength to persevere with the help of unlikely friends: Jim, a childhood crush wading through a quarter-life crisis in his parents' basement, and Clara, her compassionate chemistry teacher desperate for adventure.

Coming of Age at the End of Days is a deeply affecting portrait of love and faith, grief and redemption, and family legacies. LaPlante brilliantly parses an altered mind on the brink, exploring the often perilous, always challenging journey to become the people we want to be at the end of our days.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802125019
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 08/09/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Alice LaPlante is an award-winning and best-selling author of numerous books, including A Circle of Wives and the New York Times bestseller Turn of Mind , which was the winner of the Wellcome Trust’s Book Prize and a B&N Discover Award finalist.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

ANNA LIVES IN SUNNYVALE, CALIFORNIA, in a housing development built in the sixties. In a subdivision that supplanted a citrus grove in what was then called the Valley of Heart's Delight. In an uninspired house that was a forerunner of the barracks that would soon obliterate all the fields and orchards and give rise to a new name for the region: Silicon Valley.

Anna's street has twenty-five houses on it, but just four house models: a rancher, a colonial, a Cape Cod, and a split-level. Over the years people have added decks and landscaping, enlarged the windows and converted garages, but the skeletons of the original structures remain. When a light goes on upstairs in the colonial diagonally across the street, the mirror image of Anna's own home, Anna knows that Janie Poole, thirteen years old, has taken refuge in the bathroom to avoid the squalling of her newborn twin brothers. If the hall on the bottom floor of the split-level next door is suddenly illuminated in the late evening, Mr. Johnson is helping Mrs. Johnson to the master bedroom after she's enjoyed one scotch too many. There are no secrets, no mysteries, in this suburban enclave.

The Sunnyvale Post Office knows Anna's block as the Street of Children's Names. A year before Anna was born, the city dug up and re-poured the sidewalks. The glistening gray virgin squares proved too tempting to the neighborhood children, who carved their names in the still-wet concrete. Their engravings remain today, are writ large along the block. Each letter covers an entire pavement panel, and over the years the residents have come to call the houses by the children's names rather than their numerical addresses. Anna lives in S-A-R-A-H with her mother and father. The Goldschmidts live in K-A-R-I-S. Jim Fulson, the only child of that epic effort still living on the block, can be found across the street in C-A-R-O-L-I-N-E. The foul Hendersons next door to him in C-L-A-I-R-E.

Most lights are out by midnight on the Street of Children's Names. Everyone in bed by 11:30 pm. Except Anna. She ghosts in the early morning. No respite. Up at 3 am, unable to sleep. Too agitated to lie in bed. An uncalm insomnia. Her mother tries everything — chamomile tea, hot milk, even pills. Those Anna flushes down the toilet. She knows there must be a reason for her to be awake at such an hour. She is waiting for answers. Until then, she is resigned to witness the death of each successive night. To acknowledge the arrival of each new day. To prepare for whatever follows.

CHAPTER 2

ANNA IS SIXTEEN WHEN THE darkness descends.

She had hints that it was coming. Interludes of deep sadness over the past twelve months. Mourning, almost, triggered by the smallest things. An expression flitting across her father's face as he gazed at her mother. A glimpse of a small boy waiting alone at a bus stop. But the sadness always dissipated, she would always come to, and find herself again. Until now.

The morning it all changes, the problem starts with the mirror, still plastered with pink Disney princess stickers, smudged from practice kisses. She looks at her reflection and retches. A sudden, violent aversion. What. Is. That. Thing.

Only the previous evening, she'd stood naked in front of her mirror — just so — appreciating her shoulders, her breasts, her waist, admiring her long blonde hair. Her recent makeup purchases were scattered on the bureau: cheap Maybelline, L'Oréal from Walgreens. Because I'm worth it. Those were the articles of faith of her peers, their most fervent beliefs, and Anna had been trying to subscribe to them, trying to blend in. "People like us, we pretend. We fake it, until we're into our twenties," her mother told her. "Then we come into our own. Then our weirdnesses become our strengths." Anna had had one of her flashes of despair at this, but her mother hadn't noticed, was looking straight ahead while driving, her hands steady on the wheel. Their most intimate talks, of which this was one, occurred while her mother was preoccupied with other things.

Anna can't bear to look at herself now. She covers her mirror and turns all the photos of herself to the walls. Her mother gives up turning them back after the fifth day. Both she and Anna's father are openly concerned. Whispering stops whenever Anna walks into the room. She begins wearing her Stanford sweatshirt everywhere, the peaked hood drawn tight around her head, over her ears, pulled down to cover her forehead. Anna's mother tries to make light of it. "Hello, Grumpy," she says. "Or is it Bashful?" but Anna is as receptive to human interaction as a slab of meat.

Depression, they call it. Such a flat name for such a ferocious and uncompromising beast. Anna prefers the medieval term. Melancholia. Black bile. A foul humor that steals into your joints, paralyzes your muscles, immobilizes your bones. But it also clears your vision, reveals the truth that everything is tainted, and that you are worse than untouchable. An obscenity.

At school, first: What's wrong, Anna? Then increasingly, sullenly, even from her friends: What's your problem? A couple of phone calls. A dramatic attempt at intervention. Then, nothing. Three weeks later Anna is where she needs to be: alone.

But Anna's body is the true enemy. A heaviness of limbs. She can barely lift her head from the pillow in the morning. Melancholia. Transforming her into a machine for manufacturing despair. It is hard to breathe. Why breathe.

Anna cycles through the rote motions of an automaton. Her day shaped by invisible orders by an invisible commandant. Wear this. Eat this. Look this way. Now look down. Shake your head no. Say not a word. Turn. Turn and leave the room.

Then, one morning, at the breakfast table. Staring at the milk carton. Then. There it is. Her path forward. Expiration date. Heat spreads across Anna's face. Her fingers tingle. Her expiration date. Anna does not yet know the exact day and time. But it is coming. It will come. She will be released from pain.

CHAPTER 3

IT IS AROUND THIS TIME that Anna's mother decides to start a reading regime at bedtime. Anna feebly protests — "I'm sixteen!" — but lacks the energy to prevail. Her mother is adamant. She chooses an old Bible that once belonged to Anna's grandmother. "This gives us some time together," she says. "Besides, you're not truly educated if you don't know your biblical stories. You won't understand literary references. Or great works of art or music. Or what religious nutcases are talking about in election years." Until this point, Anna has learned nothing about God. "Religions are the work of the devil," her mother is fond of saying, without irony. In the throes of her melancholia, and ultimately grateful for any attention her mother deigns to give her, Anna acquiesces when her mother opens the book and begins to read.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth ...

So Anna learns about the creation of the world, about Adam and Eve, but as metaphors, not truths. The snake stands for temptation. The apple for knowledge that humans should not possess. Anna doesn't blame Eve for coveting it. She would have coveted it, too.

Anna finds she enjoys thinking that powers exist greater than herself. She recognizes Satan's determination and ruthless single-mindedness. Both her parents have it, each in their own way. They usually gaze past Anna to focus intently on some other object — her mother, the pianist, on her music; her father, the amateur scientist, on his study of earthquakes. Anna knows she doesn't come first with either of them. But Satan? The sweet cajoling that convinced Eve to eat the fruit — Anna would like to be subjected to that intense wooing.

Anna's mother is particularly scornful when explaining original sin, but it makes sense to Anna, this idea that she was born in shadow, and that some redemptive act is required to make her endurable.

Despite her mother's commentary, Anna is rapt during the nightly readings, riveted by the stories of Daniel, and Joseph, and David.

They have become a welcome ritual, the only occasions Anna gets precious time alone with her mother. Her mother doesn't even mind being touched now; they sit side by side propped up by pillows on Anna's double bed, together holding the heavy book so both can see the printed words. Anna's mother reads them out loud, slowly. When they reach Revelation, Anna sits straight, grips her mother's arm. She finds the answers she has been unknowingly searching for. She recognizes it when she hears it.

I have the keys to hell and of death.

Anna looks up pictures of hell on the Internet. She finds Bosch's The Last Judgment. Bosch's vision of hell delights her, the strange horned and great-snouted creatures wrestling with the humans in the crevices of dark mountains. The nakedness here excites her, rouses her from her lethargy. This is a hell she can believe in. This is a place she can get to whenever she chooses to go. She doesn't see the strange creatures as metaphors, but as truths, and the chaos in the painting reflects that inside her. Here would be a place she would fit in.

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Yes, Anna can believe in this.

CHAPTER 4

DISMAYED AS MUCH BY ANNA'S fixation on Revelation as by her depression, Anna's parents and her therapist try to trace Anna's current state back to its roots. The friendless early days at school. Her tendency to be a loner. For Anna is different. This has always been the case. At six, she was clumsy and earnest. Children are ruthless conformists, and Anna diverged from the norm just enough to affront the sensibilities of the other first graders, who firmly closed ranks against her. They didn't invite Anna to their homes, to the park, to the ice-cream parlor after school. Anna was aware that things happened between her classmates, that bonds were being forged, but she never had a way in.

Anna's mother didn't help. Wouldn't approach the other mothers, the social arbiters of the elementary school, the keepers of the playdate schedules. When approached herself — a rare occurrence — Anna's mother pulled back, rejected advances. She couldn't play tennis in the afternoon, her job as a piano tuner wouldn't allow it. She didn't have time for coffee in the morning after drop-off, that was her piano practice time. At pickup, when the other mothers gossiped in clusters at the front of the school, Anna's mother sat in her car listening to the music of Erik Satie, her eyes closed, her fingers moving as if over a keyboard. Or she talked on the phone to her best friend Martha, to her technician buddies at the music academy where she helped maintain the pianos. Whenever Anna and her mother bumped into little groups of classmates around town, at the park, or at the public swimming pool, Anna knew not to intrude upon those closed circles, she would move herself to a different swing set, or eat her ice cream outside. Anna's mother was oblivious to all this, didn't even recognize the other mothers, who long ago stopped attempting to break through her reserve.

Even back then, Anna had trouble sleeping. So at night she often slipped out of her room and down the hall to the living room, hid behind the couch while her parents, unmindful, went about their evening routine.

Anna was soothed by watching her father at his computer, charting and graphing geological seismic activity, her mother at the piano, noting fingerings on a piece of music. Her mother at that time was engrossed in Satie's Gymnopédies, the unhurried and dissonant melodies so heavy and grave that Anna's heart slowed its beating to match their measured calm. She lay behind the couch growing languid and somnolent, and eventually would crawl back to bed and sleep.

A year passed, then two. But Anna still had trouble fitting in, was still the same loner she'd been in first grade. Just be patient, the pediatrician told her parents. This is just a phase. Anna's mother would push her out the door when the other neighborhood children were playing tag in the street. But even here she felt awkward, unwelcome. Her parents would see her futilely chasing a crowd of mocking boys and girls around home base, a weak and spindly tree. She'd come into the house in tears. Her father told her that anger was greater than sadness. He told Anna to stand up for herself. But Anna, at eight, knew she was being patronized, knew how ineffectual her father was.

One day an older boy from across the street called to Anna as she hovered awkwardly around the periphery of yet another game of tag.

"Hey there," he said. "You. Yes, you." Anna pointed to herself uncertainly. "Come over here." He was standing in front of C-A-R-O-LI-N-E. "It's Annie, right?"

Anna stopped to listen but kept her eye on the girl who was It, ready to run should she become prey.

"I want to show you something," the boy said. He was fourteen, maybe fifteen, almost man-sized, belonging to that most mysterious of places, high school. He opened his right hand and showed Anna a fistful of small rocks that he'd gathered from the border of the flowerbeds of C-A-R-O-L-I-N-E, where he lived. He settled himself cross-legged about five feet from a tree, and motioned for Anna to sit next to him. He piled the rocks in a small pyramid between them.

"Do what I do," and the boy picked up a rock and threw it at the tree. It bounced harmlessly off the trunk. "Just get mad. Throw some stones. Get it out of your system. Then you can show those other kids what's what." Anna looked at the tree, then at the boy. Her face revealed nothing, she'd already learned from her mother how to hide her thoughts. Anna picked up a rock and threw. She missed.

"No, you have to hit it," said the boy, and he did so again. Anna tried and this time the rock made a satisfying thud when it struck wood.

The boy pointed to the branches that were swaying back and forth in the wind, causing the trees to bend and nearly touch each other. "See, they all talk to each other. Right now, they're whispering up and down the street that no one better mess with you, or else."

The boy smiled at Anna, but stopped when he saw her face. This time she let her expression show. She was not stupid. She knew she was being infantilized.

"Ridiculous," Anna said, speaking for the first time, using one of her father's favorite words.

The boy saw that he had failed. He was no dummy, either. "Can I go back to the game now?" Anna asked.

The boy had other plans. He scrambled to his feet. "I'll show you something, I'll show you something I've never shown anyone else," he said. He was speaking in a very low voice. He took Anna by the hand and led her to his house. They waved to a woman that Anna assumed was his mother, who was kneeling in the yard planting red flowers. Geraniums, Anna knew from the sharp, unpleasant smell that her mother hated. The boy opened the garage door and took Anna inside the garage's dark coolness. It was very neat. Like most of the residents on the Street of Children's Names, the boy's family didn't park cars in their garage, but used it as storage space. A refrigerator. A stand-alone freezer. Tools hanging on the wall. Boxes stacked into a tower, edges perfectly aligned. The boy dragged a lawn mower from the corner to the middle of the floor. His hands shook as he turned the mower on its side, exposing the mechanical underbelly. "Look at this," the boy said. "Look at this." A tremor in his voice. He reached out and nearly touched the bright blade. Anna heard him swallowing. "When you turn this on, it shreds anything that comes near. Toes, fingers. Once, I ran over a baby bird," he said. "This is a very dangerous piece of equipment." But from the way he said the word dangerous Anna understood he meant evil. She recognized terror when she saw it.

"I have to mow the lawn every Saturday," the boy said. "It used to bother me. But now I come here, I turn the lawn mower over. I touch the blade like this." And he reached out with his index finger, pressed the tip of it against the blade. He closed his eyes. With a quick, hard motion he pulled his finger across the blade. It sliced. It drew blood. Just a little. The boy had been careful. He held out his finger to Anna so she could see the red line in the flesh. Next to it, pale white lines from earlier cuts. Battle scars. "After I do this, it's okay. I can mow the lawn," he told Anna, and she could see this was true: his fear had dissipated, his hands were now steady.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Coming of Age at the End of Days"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Alice LaPlante.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Coming of Age at the End of Days 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It started off good and, near the end, started going downhill. It went from intriguiging to far fetched and then the book just ended. Like dead stop. I liked the characters. BUT, I really DID NOT like her geographical inaccuracies. As someone who has lived nearly her whole life in Northern CA and knows every CA city in the book, it was clear the author did not do her research. She may have looked at the cities on a map, but she didnt know what they looked like. When the characters left CA, I found myself wondering how accurate her depictions were of these other towns.
CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
Coming of Age at the End of Days may not be my typical type of book to read. It has a cult storyline, which quickly pulls teenager Anna in to their folds. From the very beginning I was concerned about her. She starts with a depression and stuck on death and dying. Then she meets her neighbor, Lars, who opens her eyes to the Termination that is coming. To say she becomes obsessive is an understatement. As a parent I am not sure how to handle this situation but I feel like her parents just let her do it. They are so happy to not have her depressed that they don’t fight her on her. When Anna’s life changes yet again her path in life also changes. This is where Alice LaPlante lost me a little bit. It took me some serious reading to catch on to what Anna was into now. The adults in this book cause me serious concern. There was lack of concern, lack of care, and lack of knowledge. Both Lars and Anna came and went as they wanted, did as they wanted, and did not give a lot of thought to how their actions would affect anyone else. There were no repercussions or punishments for their actions. I will say that the western part of the United States is part of the country that I want to visit. I love the descriptions of the mountains, the scenery. I could see where Anna and Lars were heading and what they were seeing as they traveled. The fact that you can go from dessert to mountains, heat to snow, all in the same state makes me love it even more. I could not put Coming of Age at the End of the Days down, yet I am not sure how to recommend it. I enjoyed it. I came to care and worry for Lars and especially Anna. If you enjoy a cult story definitely check this out. If you are unsure if you like cult stories consider checking this out. If you struggle with cult stories pass on this book.
MorrisMorgan More than 1 year ago
“Coming of Age at the End of Days” is a book about depression, other unspecified illnesses, loss, cults, religion as a whole, and what it means to be growing up in the midst of all of these things. It’s an interesting concept, but the execution left something to be desired. The character development was actually very extensive. However, the main character, Anne, was an extremely unsympathetic character. Depression is involved, along with some other unspecified medical issues that may or may not also be physical. None of that is ever clarified, but there are definitely clues that something else is going on. The problem is that these things are presented, along with her home life, as reasons for why she acts the way she does. While it is true in some of the instances, even if she were completely healthy with a perfect life she would still be the sort of person who is the walking equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. It’s difficult to become lost in a story when you don’t care much about the main character. The premise of mental illness and how cults exploit it to gain followers was promising, but the first two-thirds of the book dragged so much that the interesting parts were lost in a sea of banality. I would have liked to see more details of the cult itself. The last third of the book moved well and was enjoyable, but it required quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to go with it. The ultimate conclusion felt as though it were an afterthought. I gave “Coming of Age at the End of Days” three stars because technically the characters and plot are sound. It’s the end product that needed some trimming. Alice LaPlante is a very talented author, but this is definitely not her best work. I’d give it a pass unless you’re a diehard fan. This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
This was my first Alice LaPlante book and it was nothing like I thought it would be. I thought it was some post apocalyptic thriller. Unfortunately, I got more religion than I bargained for. While I did read the whole book, it ended kind of shortly for me. Like I said I was expecting something else and the big event that was to happen ended in like three pages. Just a big let down for me. I mainly kept reading the book to see if she kicked Lars on down the highway, since I figured out it wasn't what I thought. Thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for providing me with this free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.
BrandieC More than 1 year ago
I read Coming of Age at the End of Days because I thoroughly enjoyed Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind, a nifty psychological thriller featuring that most unreliable of narrators, a woman suffering from Alzheimer's. What I expected from her latest novel was the same level of complexity in puzzle-solving (albeit not in the context of a murder mystery); what I got was a hot mess. LaPlante's teenage protagonist is certainly unpredictable: Is she depressed and suicidal (although she prefers the term "melancholy")? A religious visionary à la Joan of Arc? An epileptic? Whatever else she is, Anna is an unsympathetic character (as are both of her parents), whose mental health issues feel like an artificial construct imposed by LaPlante to give her the "tangled relationships" her publisher extols. None of the characters' actions are believable, and LaPlante conveniently glosses over the major issues she has created for them by fast-forwarding almost three years to an epilogue, which contains no explanation as to how those issues were resolved. From my two vastly different reading experiences, I have concluded that LaPlante's strength lies in her mystery plotting, not in emotional family sagas. Fortunately the remaining LaPlante novel, A Circle of Wives, appears to be a mystery as well, so I can still look forward to reading it. My advice is that others do the same, skipping Coming of Age at the End of Days as an anomaly (I hope) in LaPlante's oeuvre. I received a free copy of Coming of Age at the End of Days through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.