Being a teenager was all about feeling ugly, alienation, conflict, bitterness, loneliness, lashing out, and isolation. I was a complete misfit in every respect, even among misfits. (Stanley Laine)
When I read the last page of The End of the Line, I imagined numerous train tracks and junctions splitting and forking, representing the possible life-tracks of a human being. One decision, accident or event can change us forever with no turning back, as the train of life goes only in one direction. Each of us has our desired final destination but not everybody gets there. The bundle of biographies depicted in the novel prove that the most important turns in our tracks are decided between 14 and 19 years of age, when we are completely unprepared, the most sensitive, inexperienced, often unsupported, full of doubts, and swinging between self-admiration and self-loathing.
The End of the Line, a story about a group of friends growing up together in a small town, is written with an extraordinary psychological depth and understanding of human emotions, mind mechanisms and interpersonal interactions. With first person narrative it is typically really difficult to insightfully depict other characters than the main protagonist, but in Stanley's book it works really efficiently and transparently. People’s states of mind are shown in a very subtle way by their words, gestures, body language, acts, and the moods of the accompanying backgrounds, landscapes, weather, light and darkness. Details are saturated with meaning and the pictures painted with words appear clearly in the reader's imagination. This way, when feelings are not trivially named nor flatly described, the reader feels them, rather than is just told about them. Well-constructed, believable personalities with inner coherence are undergoing the process of growing up, and each of them takes this journey from the Child to Adult station at his own speed and by his own track. We meet characters in varied situations which reveal a complexity of other life issues, like economy changes or gender discrimination in the job market.
Despite the social and family demands on young people, who are expected to become grown ups by getting an education, job and career, the period of adolescence in Stanley Laine's book is driven and defined by relationships with other people. It's bonds with friends and love for partners and children that are the core of human identity and create motivation and energy to keep on moving, or even to hold on to one's existence instead of abandoning it. We could say: love first, and only if you have it, you'll find someone to work for. This vision goes against social defaults; young people are told that love is a luxury that only exists for those who earn money and are financially independent. Geoff's and Colette's parents are no different and that's why they put such harsh demands on their children. (I won’t tell you the details so as not to spoil it).
At this moment I'd like to express my deepest respect to Stanley, as it is really rare for male authors to write mostly and skillfully about human feelings and relationships and to give them such an important place in the vision of reality. I asked the author how he managed to prevent himself from becoming detached from his emotions - something which happens to most boys during the process of socialization in our culture.
"I feel like most people that seem detached from their emotions are really just very well-trained at hiding them", he answered. "I fantasized a lot about being other people and I think this helped me learn to step outside of my own mind and feel things I might not have otherwise felt."
One more surprising impression from reading The End of the Line is that such a calm, low-pitched novel can keep me in suspense so strongly that I read the book all night long until I finished it at sunrise the next day. Having met the main protagonist as an adult with his wife and children in the first chapter, we already know (or we are given the illusion that we know) in which direction his teenage romance will go, but there are also unrevealed mysteries of his past that are mentioned at the beginning. So I wanted to find out where his train of life took turns that brought him to this point in his life. Geoff and Colette agree that their life was un-extraordinary but I would say that in some strange way it was and wasn't at the same time. They didn't have to do great, media-covered deeds to be great people; and each dramatic life-event is as big as the scale of sensitivity of the person who must face it. Their stories were somehow stretched between "The End of the Line" and "Hopewell Manor", with the latter being both a life-giving house and a cemetery - the first having several different meanings that you'll find out for yourself:
It's so easy for girls. They know they can always find someone to marry and have babies with...
But what if they want more out of life than ‘us’? Where will they harvest their dreams, standing at the end of the line behind us?
And years later:
You know, at a certain point you just have to grow up and maybe growing up is realizing that life just isn't about you anymore.
You may have given up on your dreams when you reached the end of the line, but I never will.
But it’s not the way you might think...
Dark, deep and beautiful prose, formed with care, written in clear, transparent words, none of them unnecessary, each carrying the meaning hidden behind and visible through suggestive imagery, both intellectually and emotionally moving.