In The End of the Point, Elizabeth Graver provides a particularly finely written literary novel. The End of the Point is the story of an extended family and their connections to their vacation home at Ashaunt Point, Massachusetts. Graver speaks to the power of place in memory, imagination, and particularly in family life. The End of the Point is a multi-generational family saga, as Graver traces the relationships and travails of several members of the Porter household.
It strikes me that Graver is particularly attuned to the female experience. She certainly does not focus exclusively on the female members of the Porter household, but her writing of the struggles of being a woman and dealing with a world that is gendered are authentic and poignant. Graver explores the female experience from the perspective of different generations, but what’s most interesting are the ways in which Graver writes the female experience as it cuts across socioeconomic class. Although she’s writing about the old-moneyed and well-to-do Porter family, Graver also focuses on the experience of their hired help, particularly the experiences of Bea, a sort of nanny-nurse-companion to the youngest Porter child and later to the adults in the novel. Bea’s experience, as compared to the more bourgeois experiences of Helen, the eldest Porter daughter, are particularly authentic and nearly heartbreaking. In fact, Bea may be the most sympathetic character in the entire novel.
The End of the Point spans the years of 1942 to 1999, opening with World War II. In fact, the Porter family members seem to be very much shaped by war. Thematically, then, Graver explores the ways in which war and wartime loss shape not only individual experience and memory but the dynamics of a family. The Porter’s only son, Charlie, a pilot, is killed in Europe during World War II, and the specter of his loss haunts the family for the remainder of the novel. Charlie’s namesake, Helen’s son, is shaped by his own generational experience of the Vietnam War as well.
Graver, in what is a family saga, explores the relationships between family members and the ways in which one generation affects the next. Family is a wonderful and also a difficult thing; family can both sustain us and scar us, maybe all at the same time. And Graver manages to convey this seemingly-paradoxical experience of family.
Graver’s writing style is, quite simply, lovely:
“Bea sighed. Every year, it was the same battle. Janie saved horeshoe crabs and rocks, beach rose hips, butterflies, and beetles, every manner of broken and chipped shells, bits of driftwood and sea glass, lobster claws, smelly, rattling strands of seaweed. This year had been worse than most, as Janie suddenly fancied herself–at eight!–too old for toys, and had been scavenging, foraging, pocketing, all summer with a fervor that Bea found at once irritating and, in its intensity, a little strange.”
Passages like these feel rather like Virginia Woolf in both the word choice and syntax as well as the attempt to convey something like stream-of-consciousness. And quite honestly, I can offer no higher praise of one’s writing style than to compare it to that of Woolf.
The End of the Point is a beautiful literary novel. Although some readers find this type of novel to be a bit slow, it’s really quite wonderful. The exploration of family experience and place as well as the writing style make it perfect.