I love when Our Lady of Serendipity finds me a good book. While I waited for a few books that I had reserved to come into the library, I looked for a short, recently published novel to tide me over. What I found was At the Bottom of Everything by Ben Dolnick, an author whose books I hadn’t read before. I loved the voice of the first-person narrator: the humor, the inner conflict, the perspective on life. Some of the details felt intimate. I liked how e-mails were used to bring in other voices to the novel. I enjoyed the storyline, which took me from the familiar world of childhood to a life that had taken a tragic turn and from the American suburbs to a cave in India.
Briefly, Adam befriends the socially awkward but intelligent Thomas. “I liked being the kid who cracked Thomas Pell; it was like having learned to communicate with an owl.” They become best friends. While Adam evolves into a typical teenage boy, Thomas remains unsure and awkward. In order to test their limits, the boys decide to engage in some minor hijinks involving Thomas’s dad’s car. Unfortunately one of their outings goes tragically wrong and indirectly results in the death of a young woman. No one finds out about their role in the accident. The boys end their friendship shortly after that and grew apart. “Thomas and I, who’d seen each other naked at the aquatic center, who’d woken up a hundred times on side-by-side mattresses, who shared a secret more serious than any married couple…now we were awkward together.” Ten years later, Adam is trying to find his way in the world with varying success. Meanwhile Thomas drops out of college after having a breakdown. While Adam has been able to put the accident behind him, Thomas is consumed by the guilt. When Thomas disappears in India, his parents turn to Adam to find him. How far will Adam go to find the man who was once his best friend?
At the Bottom of Everything was a special treat for me because it does a nice job of developing characters. I would like to read Dolnick’s earlier books to see more of his character development.