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Paperback The Living End Book

ISBN: 0380728974

ISBN13: 9780380728978

The Living End

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Format: Paperback

Condition: Very Good

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. A quintessential Elkin protagonist, Ellerbee is a good husband, a good employer, a good sport who cares greatly about his fellow human beings--until he is killed during a senseless liquor-store...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

The supreme artist in search of an audience

A very strangely constructed little novel, Stanley Elkin's "The Living End" is both an afterlife fantasy and a secular meditation on the meaning of God's creation. It's interesting that most authors who write fiction about the state of death portray it as simply a transcended, and usually idealized, form of life, but then again from what other source can they draw their material? Death is the one thing that can't be researched. "The Living End" begins with what looks like a conventional plot, telling the story of a hapless ordinary man named Ellerbee who owns a liquor store in Minneapolis, has a nagging wife whom he loves nonetheless, and is loyally charitable to his employees. One day he is shot and killed by armed robbers and is spirited away to Heaven--which, although every bit the antiseptic paradise it is rumored, appears in the form of a theme park, like an ecclesiastical Disney World--and then is told, without explanation, that he is being sent directly to Hell. Hell is total anarchy and chaos, people constantly brutalizing each other or wandering around aimlessly with no structure or schedule to their existence, ultimately desensitized to their environment. After sixty-two years in the inferno--long enough for a guy to deserve to know why he's been sent there--Ellerbee learns that his sentence is a result of having broken some of the more easily breakable commandments, leaving him to ponder the absurdity of having to spend eternity in the abyss for having operated his business on the Sabbath. In Hell, Ellerbee eventually meets his murderer's accomplice, a man named Ladlehaus who made a great living as a criminal but met his end when the plug was pulled on him while he was in a coma. Through an odd set of circumstances his grave was located in a high school stadium, where the groundskeeper, a man named Quiz, believed the dead man was speaking to him. Quiz, the hilariously perverse protagonist of the novel's second act, imagines the Twin Cities are engaged in a civil war and persuades little boys to play soldiers for him. The novel comes full circle in Heaven, where Mary, who contemplates the experience of having borne a child while remaining a virgin, and Joseph, who feels cuckolded by God over said child, have reunited with Jesus in a skewed family portrait. God, frustrated with the empty and vain tributes of religion, man's idea of adoration of the divine, gives a "gala" in which, like a temperamental and narcissistic artist berating a public apathetic to his work, he explains the rationale behind his universe and makes his fearsome final decision. Elkin surely wishes he knew the secrets he pretends God to disclose, but he doesn't cheat his reader--the force and style of his expression are more than worth the time and trouble of "The Living End."

Back in print ...About Time!

This is Elkin's best work in my opinion. It is sad, funny, chewy, and ridiculous. The humor is so dark you might need a flashlight to make your way but is worth it. Elkin paints hysterical portraits of all your favorite New Testament all-stars. I am so glad that this is back in print and you should be to. If you like Elkin please buy this so his work will stay in print.


This is one of the best books ever written. Elkin hilariously dissects and explodes every tenant of Christianity by slamming the contradictions into one another with perfect timing and accuracy. He paints the dilemmas faced by all believers through the incredibly credible characters he creates : Ellerbee is a good man who didn't believe and so goes to hell, for that and some other petty omissions and indiscretions, while God, thoroughly imperfect as well as a pompous egotist, is a supreme being who likes to be idolized and entertained certain he does not have to defend his inhumanity to man. In Heaven, Joseph does not believe his son, the cripple, is the messiah. This and so many other contradictions and paradoxes roll lightly across the eyes in this little book leaving you to believe you just read a book bigger than any bible. It is a book that you can read in a sitting, but I guarantee you will sit again and again as you reread it finding something new and delightful every time you turn a page.

modern dark comedy at its best

Unlike the last review on this short novel, I will refrain from giving away the story, in that it's the twists and exchanges that make the novel hunorous. The reader is best off receiving those twist and exchanges from Elkin himself, a master of the english language, of communication and of the humor that can be elicited from words. If for no other reason, you should read this novel to see that skill at work.All said, I admit that I'm not really sure what this novel is about. I think its purpose is to make us question some of the basic foundations of our existence; why we do what we do each day, why we believe what we believe. It surely pokes some fun at our conceptions of religion, history, politics, morals, values and the role of God. It is so ludicrous at times that it seems, at first glance, quite meaningless. But I could not help but think about it long after I finished it. (Certain images and exchanges lingered for years). In total, I have read The Living End maybe a dozen times, and each time I read it, I pick up something new.Read this book with an open mind. And then read it again.

It's funny, disorienting and haunting.

And you thought Job had it tough? Meet poor Ellerbee, the liquor store owner murdered during a hold-up, who arrives at the Pearly Gates with what the reader thinks has to be a terrific resume. In life, he looked out for the underdog, did the right thing always, even when haggled by his wife. Now, much to his dismay, and the reader's, Ellerbee is rejected and sent to Hell. Was it because he thought heaven "looked like a theme park," or were greater, more obscure cosmic forces already at work? Despite the steady presence of Elkin's sense of humor, one remains troubled and anxious through-out the three stories that comprise the novel. Surely, a just God will appear to render the ethical Ellerbee his due, but when? The author's tone is too light and off-hand for this to be another Kafkesque descent into random madness. Yet when Ellerbee finally gets an audience with the Lord, it doesn't go well. You sold liquor on Sunday, you swore, you even once got an erection from looking at your neighbor's wife, God says. Ellerbee is dumbfounded. For this? I'm going to burn forever for this, he wonders? God is more even more implacable than in the Old Testament. We'd almost prefer the silence of the almighty we've come to expect in the literature of the absurd; at least it leaves open the possibility of wagering on his benign existence. Here God appalls us with his ego-mania and absence of empathy. At the same time we laugh, as God and Ellerbe trade one-liners like an experienced team. The Living End is a hard novel to stop thinking about although the reader would like to. Its implications for resurection and eternal bliss aren't good, but the author's delivery keeps you smiling - and turning the pages.
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