At the Bottom of Everything
By Ben Dolnick
(Pantheon, Hardcover, 9780307907981, 256pp.)
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
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A stunning novel of friendship, guilt, and madness: two friends, torn apart by a terrible secret, and the dark adventure that neither of them could have ever conceived.
It’s been ten years since the “incident,” and Adam has long since 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 nights looking up his ex-girlfriend on Facebook, and pretending that he has some more meaningful plan for an adult life. But when he receives an email from Thomas’s mother begging for his help, he finds himself drawn back into his old friend’s world, and into the past he’s tried so desperately to forget. As Adam embarks upon a magnificently strange and unlikely journey, Ben Dolnick unspools a tale of spiritual reckoning, of search and escape, of longing and reaching for redemption—a tale of near hallucinatory power.
Ben Dolnick is the author of the novels You Know Who You Are and Zoology, and his work has appeared in The New York Times and on NPR. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
Praise for At the Bottom of Everything
“Ben Dolnick’s first two novels . . . were intelligent, amiable books, about the coming-of-age of middle-class male protagonists. They were warmhearted and strikingly perceptive about their heroes’ feelings . . . . Dolnick has retained his strengths—his sensitive gauge for emotional states and his empathy—but his writing is more taut, more piquant, not only observant but wry in its depiction of human fallibility. The result is a lively, often funny book about being young and smart and confused, fumbling through life in a middle-class American sort of way . . . . Dolnick nails the casual brutality with which teenagers drop people they were once close to . . . . Dolnick narrates with a deft comic touch . . . . There is a lifelike complexity to the way it all plays out . . . . In this slim, surprisingly haunting book, Dolnick reminds us that part of being a healthy and functional human is a willingness to act a little bit selfish, a little cruel in our ability to walk away from the pain of others.”
—Adelle Waldman, New York Times Book Review
“Gripping . . . . At the Bottom of Everything shines as an examination of the ephemeral foundations of youth and friendship . . . . Dolnick perfectly captures the unstoppable inertia of kids growing apart."
—Drew Toal, NPR
“Terrific, seemingly effortless . . . . Dolnick's prose has abundant charm, humor, and intelligence, a knack for vivid details and stunning metaphors, and so many richly imagined characters that it calls to mind an updated Fitzgerald.”
—James Hannaham, Village Voice
“The characters in Ben Dolnick’s new novel, At the Bottom of Everything . . . have a trauma in their shared past—not that friendships need a reason to disintegrate—but that’s almost besides the point. The best parts of this novel involve watching the effect of this distance on its two eccentric and well-drawn characters. They’re a bit reminiscent of Martin Amis types in that they are both intelligent and flawed—the sort of combination that makes you want to hop on their backs and see where the story takes them.”
—Dan Duray, The Observer
“[E]xpertly magnifies the minutiae of youth, loneliness, and a friendship gone wrong . . . Dolnick’s insights into life’s bleaker spells are wise and entertaining, making for an invigorating and transcendent reminder of how haunting old friendships can be.”
—Jonathan Fullmer, Booklist
“An engrossing, often wrenching novel about the limits of love and friendship, not to mention self-knowledge. Dolnick writes with wisdom, humor, and real grace.”
—Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land and The Fun Parts
“Dolnick writes with the assurance and wisdom of an author twice his age. At the Bottom of Everything turns a story about a childhood friendship into a moving exploration of the deepest questions life offers. This book does something more important than depict the ‘way we live now.’ It asks whether the way we live now is really ‘living’ at all.”
—Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver
“A remarkable story about the enduring nature of childhood friendship and the burdens that such a friendship can impose on a person regardless of age or will. It’s a clear-eyed, unwavering look into the nature of guilt and the ways in which a split-second decision can change the lives of people forever. I found myself both breathlessly racing to the end of the book and also terrified to turn the final pages. It is one of those stories that will remain in my mind and heart for a long, long time.”
—Matthew Dicks, author of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
"An unlikely friendship develops between the uptight, brilliant Thomas and the easygoing Adam . . . [Dolnick] conjures the memory of familiar movies and books like Lucas and A Separate Peace."
—Cameron Martin, The Daily Beast
"A bighearted story about friendship and forgiveness, At the Bottom of Everything is an engaging novel brimming over with humor and sympathetic characters."
—Michael David Lukas, San Francisco Chronicle
Praise for Ben Dolnick
“Dolnick is a writer of incredible sensitivity.”
—Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
“Dolnick writes with a maturity that belies his years . . . distinguished by a rare combination of narrative patience and instinctive kindness.”
—George Saunders, author of Tenth of December