I've noticed that whenever I tell the story of going to look for Thomas (all it takes is a couple of beers, like quarters into a jukebox), at some point whoever I'm talking to will say two things:1) You're such a good friend!
and2) How could you just pick up and leave like that?I was nothing like a good friend, and I could only pick up and leave like that because the thing I was picking up and leaving was no longer, in any recognizable sense, a life. But I don't say this. My conversation self, the one I send out to bars and parties and weddings, is a half-truth-spouting machine. Here I'll try to do better.I'd spend the last couple of years (really the years since I was fifteen) ignoring the fact that Thomas needed me, as if his life were a flashing Check Engine light in the corner of my dashboard....
I enjoy stories that use the act of story telling as their artistic device. It's an invitation to the truth, and there's something fitting about this artifice in Ben Dolnick's plainly voiced first-person confessional narrative in At the Bottom of Everything. This is a classic novel of a close male friendship that grows apart as the friends age. For Kings and Planets, Narcissus and Goldmund, and Brideshead Revisited all fall into this classic category, which evokes for me a certain nostalgia, but each is also a tragedy. Innocence dies a terrible death in each of these stories. At the root of the distancing in this novel is a terrible accident in which Adam, our narrator, and Thomas are complicit.
On the other hand, Thomas reaches a point where he can only move toward what happened and deal with it, traveling all the way to India on a spiritual quest, to do so. This part of the novel evokes another classic genre - the character who sets out from a world in which he cannot find his place to seek meaning - The Razors's Edge comes to mind. Both these men become defined by this act but At the Bottom of Everything lives in the duality of their responses asking - whose is healthier, whose more ethical?