I read The End of Music shortly after reading Most Anything You Please. Both are set in Newfoundland, both involve music as an important part of the characters’ stories, and both are set (at least partly) during the war and post-war years. They share many similarities, yet are very different.
Where Most Anything You Please feels like sinking into a warm peppermint-scented bath, The End of Music feels more like body surfing in the shallow waves of the Atlantic Ocean and chafing up against the sandy bottom. What I’m trying to say is that they go well together, and that you should read them both. Especially if you’re in need of some good Newfoundland Lit (which I’m sure you are, because isn’t everyone?). Throw in Michael Crummey’s Sweetland and you have the perfect trio.
The End of Music is told in two narratives; one being the story of Joyce as she leaves home at a young age to live and work at the new airport in Gander (“a thriving hub in this new era of trans-Atlantic travel“), and the other is the story of her son Carter more than 50 years later.
I’m sure this will come as no surprise, but I prefer Joyce’s storyline, most of which takes place before Carter ever comes along. After her mother dies, Joyce is desperate to get away from her father and brother, both determined to “keep her in her place”. She decides to join a friend in Gander where she’ll have more freedom at a time when young women aren’t supposed to have a lot of freedom.
So nothing much has changed. A young girl was still held to account for her boyfriends, and it was treated like the only part of her story that mattered.
Boys had been like that ever since Joyce was a girl, always nudging and pushing at her, this way and that.
Through Joyce’s story we get a look at what life is like in the 40s, 50s and 60s of Gander, NL for the men and women working there, and as the town gets built up and families decide to put down roots.
Arthur’s mother said there was something about seeing men on the moon that drove young people mad. “Like people can do anything, because there’s no sense to the world anymore. When I was a girl, you always knew there was an order to things.”
Many years later, a 40-something Carter is dealing with the imminent death of his ex-wife and former band member. They share a lot of history, but their memories of it don’t always seem to match up. He also has a mother with dementia, and a son who was born with a heart defect. When Carter goes home to Newfoundland to visit his mother, he learns that the band he played in long ago is making a kind of come-back. He and another band buddy want to resurrect it, but need to get the okay from most of the band members first, including his ex-wife who is not in favour.
In the meantime, Carter has been given the opportunity to help some archeologists with exploring old crash sites around Gander airport, dating back to the war years, which tie in with events that took place when his mother worked there.
It’s a rich confluence of events. Leah approaching death while he searches ancient sites of death and destruction. Carter surrounded by the trappings of flight, past and present, as he contemplates all the things that he has taken flight from. The circular route that brings him back to Gander, to the past where he once obsessively plotted the future.
All this history takes Carter away from his second wife and son. He even finds himself staying away from his mother, even though she is not far away. As he finds himself living on the edge of now and then, he needs to decide where his priorities lie.
You had to scratch the surface to get at the serious business of life, and people didn’t like having their surface scratched.
I find this book hard to describe coherently, and I think it’s because: 1) the back and forth between the present and the past contain layers that are hard to talk about without writing an essay or giving too much of the story away. And 2) the best part of this book is not in the plot but in the details and imagery. There is a strong sense of place, and complex characters. Only a full read of the book can do it justice.
My friend and fellow blogger, James at The Miramichi Reader, wrote a fabulous review of this book. What I love most is what he says about “wrecks and damaged souls”: “The Gander airport is surrounded by the wreckage of aircraft from the war period through to the fifties when Joyce is working there. There is an accident when the plane carrying her current love interest Eric goes down just after takeoff with all on board perishing. (Interestingly, years later, Carter’s archeology class visits the crash site in Gander). Will, the aforementioned bassist for Infinite Yes, is a wreck of a man after suffering an industrial accident while working out west. Sam’s heart is damaged. Leah is consumed by cancer. The band’s old tapes are disintegrating, and the software needed to recover them is ancient, as is the hardware needed to run it. Joyce’s brain is damaged by dementia. You get the picture. This is Carter’s world.”
The End of Music was Sharon Bala‘s favourite book of 2017: “Jamie Fitzpatrick’s The End of Music follows parallel tracks. In the heady postwar era, a young woman runs away from home to join a band in the big city; and half a century later, her son, calcifying in middle age, tries to reinvent himself as an indie rock star. Music is both transformer and destroyer in this finely crafted novel about memory and deception, mortality and regret.”
Thank you to Breakwater Books for sending me a copy of this book!
Interesting facts about the Gander International Airport:
1) There’s a whole chapter in The End of Music that relates to the Hungarian refugees going through Gander on their way to other places. Volunteers helped to feed them and shelter them until they were on their way again.
2) The Kenneth Lochhead mural “Flights and its Allegories” was an inspiration to Jane Urquhart’s The Night Stages.
3) The airport in Gander is well known for the part it played in 9/11. It took in 38 aircraft carrying 6600 passengers. The population of the town was only 10,000. “There, on a Canadian island of green hills and rocky coasts, humans were at their best.” You can read a book about it. Or see the musical!