“Wait a minute! Is that all there is? I watch TV and eat? While the seasons go by?”
David doesn’t remember anything. Where he is, how he ended up there, or even his own last name. The drugs make sure of that. But when his meds are changed and the orderlies fail to notice he’s no longer swallowing the pills, flashes of memory start to slip through the cracks in the fuzz. Slowly pushing aside the prescription-induced cobwebs, David begins to piece things together. One fact becomes very clear—if he doesn’t want to lose what little he has regained of himself, he needs to escape.
I’ve read a number of Brent Nichols’ books before (both under his own name and as Jake Elwood) and while I’ve typically always enjoyed his stories, END OF THE LOOP struck me as something special. Nichols employs language as a surgeon does the scalpel. His prose is tight and calculated, each sentence carrying exactly as much weight as needed to get the job done. The technique is particularly effective in the early chapters, as David emerges from his prescription-induced fugue. One feels the very real weight of lassitude imposed by the daily regimen of pills that keep David in his waking coma.
END OF THE LOOP starts as a slow burn, building momentum like a chugging train as David unravels more and more about his past. There’s a marked shift in pacing roughly a third of the way through the book, though, where events and memories begin to cascade and overlap. As more and more of David’s memories surface, flashbacks fill in the gaps between his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. These intertwining threads are incredibly deftly woven. Readers will find themselves pulled along, wanting to know more and more with each new revelation and turning the pages to see if David can keep ahead of his fate while struggling to recover his past.
David finds both help and hinderances along the way as the story barrels toward its startling conclusion. Allies and antagonists from his past join the ride, throwing complications into the mix and giving the story interesting twists and speedbumps. Interesting questions are also raised about what happens to everyone else’s lives when someone disappears. But this isn’t It’s a Wonderful Life, and David is not George Bailey; David sees firsthand the very real impact his absence has made on those close to him, the very real consequences his actions left all those years ago.
Without giving anything away, all I can say about END OF THE LOOP’s ending is that the book wraps up with a masterful last-page gut punch that will leave readers gasping for air—rarely has the ending of a book left me reeling with such a visceral reaction. Getting to that ending is a deep and thorough study in character and consequence. END OF THE LOOP is a short read, but a powerful one. Absolutely worth your time.
Trigger & Content Warnings: Alcohol and Drug Use, Addictions, Graphic Violence, Murder, Death of Family Member, Psychological Abuse, Sexual Assault, Mild Sexual Content, Dad Jokes
END OF THE LOOP
Brent Nichols, Tiny Sledgehammer/Seventh Terrace (2020)