If you were 18 or older in 1984, if you were from or migrated to Seattle in the latter half of the 20th Century, if you used far too many drugs, drank too much alcohol, thought Alaska was the Promised Land, thumbed your nose at the conventional American culture of the ‘80s, explored life aboard fishing boats, had too much sex, and had madcap adventures in global hotspots from Honduras to Cambodia, then you are the right audience for Some Kind of Ending by Conon Parks.
Calling this book an experimental novel is appropriate; there is little approximating a cohesive narrative. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s the tale of several drunken, chemically dependent people—not the kind you would take home to Mother—who converge on Seattle in 1984, wind up on a variety of fishing boats bound to Alaska in search of great fortunes to be made from the fishing industry and return to Seattle. More specifically the dives and women of Seattle’s Ballard seafaring community. Nothing in common seems to draw them together except the desire to live according to their Rabelaisian taste for life.
There are at least two explosions—one breaking out a colleague from a mental hospital, the other blowing up a submarine that may have rammed a Greenpeace sailing vessel and in turn, was blown up by another boat carrying an inordinate amount of military ordnance. There are fights galore, long meditations on the Foreign Legion, Gurdjieff, the Iran-Contra hearings, and disparaging comments about “Hanoi Jane” Fonda.
The closest to recognizable characters may be Andre, a literate college drop-out with at least one prison sentence in his past; and Doug, an idealist from the Midwest. But even identifying those names gives no sense of the swirl of characters and stories that circle through this picaresque novel. Characters pop up like moles in a garden, or more appropriately, whack-a-moles.
What is the book about? It’s a question not easily answered except to call it a diary, a 20th Century Samuel Pepys observation of a particular 1980s-based time and space. “Diatribe” is an equally applicable description. At one point, Andre reminisces about all the many images he has witnessed in his life, “from riots in Barcelona, to martial laws and Gestapo goons after the Kurds he was runnin’ within Istanbul, to Guatemalan guerillas and Mayan Indios, to Easy St. Louis hoods, to Israel and the West Bank, to Wounded Knee, to polio victims hobbling about with their knees above their ears.”
Stream-of-consciousness at its best, Some Kind of Ending drives readers on a colorful, and somewhat perplexing journey of absurdism. Recommended.
Parks won First Place in the 2017 SOMERSET Book Awards for Contemporary and Literary Fiction Novels for Some Kind of Ending.