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The Great Unknowable End

Review

The Great Unknowable End

 

Slater, Kansas, is like most Midwest towns --- record shops, hair salon, an outdoor theater and Red Sun, a nearby pacifist community that strives toward unity, shunning the Outside and its corrupting influence on relationships and the environment. While the commune is far from a mystery to the town, it certainly isn’t embraced, frequently the scapegoat for incidents in Slater. For some, however, tensions with the commune run higher --- like for the Mercer family.

After Stella’s brother Craig leaves home for the community, she struggles with the bitterness of his abandonment, especially after her mother’s death by suicide, and wonders what could have persuaded him to leave their family behind.

But Galliard, born and raised in Red Sun, thinks that individuals on the Outside miss the value of the community he calls home --- until he finds himself assigned to menial work in the kitchens, passed over for the artist position in the community that would allow him to become the musician he’s dreamed of being. Meanwhile, Slater itself faces more than internal tensions --- strange weather events, from pink lighting to tornadoes, keep occurring, while a countdown clock appears in the town. What are Stella and Galliard, and the rest of Slater, heading toward? And who will they become before what might be the end?

"For readers looking for a story with a distinctive tone, compelling characters and a touch of the supernatural, Kathryn Ormsbee delivers a unique and interesting novel in THE GREAT UNKNOWABLE END..."

With THE GREAT UNKNOWABLE END, Kathryn Ormsbee explores dreams, responsibility and identity in a novel that captures the distinct attitude of late 70s and early 80s. One of the most distinctive features of the story is the historical context and the way that Ormsbee recreates its unique feeling. With bicycle rides, supernatural events and teens exhilarated by possibility and chance, THE GREAT UNKNOWABLE END brings to mind classics of the era like E.T., while Ormsbee also includes the intersection of hippie culture, environmental activism, a thriving music industry and, most importantly, Star Wars. Even the reactions of the characters echo the mindset of a decade where global powers interacted in unexpected and, at times, frightening ways, and project the uncertainty of the time. Down to the smallest detail, Ormsbee includes little reminders of the historical context, demonstrating her concrete understanding of the time period and successfully making the story feel firmly integrated into the era, rather than existing in the time period on a superficial level.

In terms of the content of the story, Ormsbee develops the central conflict between personal aspirations and responsibility that shapes identity, exploring this same idea from the two unique perspectives of her main characters. While Stella debates her commitment to her family, particularly her little sister, Gillard wrestles with his bond to his own community, and the role he needs to take for the harmony of the group as a whole. Stella’s characterization, in particular, feels deeply developed, with a vulnerable and honest narrative that allows readers to connect with her. However, Galliard’s personality feels somewhat less explained by the end of the novel, and his character could have been made more compelling with a deeper understanding of his relationships with others in his community, as well as the history of his connection with music. Even without these details, though, both characters prove relatable and passionate.

Where Ormsbee’s novel may fall short for some readers, however, is in the pacing and closure of the novel. The strange, almost supernatural events of the story slowly gain intensity, keeping the reader engaged in the unexplainable, while the reactions of the townspeople seem realistic and add to the tension of the events. However, the climax itself feels rushed, with many events happening in such a short span of time that they lose their individual resonance, leaving the reader looking for more. Additionally, the resolution of the novel lacks a completely satisfactory explanation. While the style of the conclusion seems to fit the historical context of the novel in some ways, readers who like tidy endings may not feel like the final chapters of the story measure up. 

For readers looking for a story with a distinctive tone, compelling characters and a touch of the supernatural, Kathryn Ormsbee delivers a unique and interesting novel in THE GREAT UNKNOWABLE END --- one that 70s readers would be sure to have called “groovy.”

Reviewed by Rachel R., Teen Board Member on February 27, 2019

The Great Unknowable End
by Kathryn Ormsbee