Few stories are as engrossing as a good mystery. Grant Jerkins evidences this with At the End of the Road, a novel that does not lack for excitement in its pages. The story begins with a car accident, and like the scene of a horrific accident, it captivates with its quickly worsening events. Most of these involve the main character, Kyle. This pre-teen dealing with some typical childhood issues like bullying and family dysfunction soon finds himself embroiled in happenings that would push the limit of any person, even adults. While Kyle’s point of view is prominent, readers become privy to the perspective of several other characters.
All of these characters reside in the American South, and considering the rich literary history of that region, anyone who writes of this area has high standards to compete with. Jerkins handles the South well with descriptive paragraphs and imagery that highlight the geography, giving the reader a clear visual. Most of the novel occurs in the 1970s, but this is mixed with occasional flash-forwards that add important and interesting details to an otherwise relatively linear narrative. Such a narrative is easy to read, and At the End of the Road is comprised of straightforward prose that is accessible but not overly simplified. The paragraphs are standard length, and there is a good mixture of dialogue and description. It is an interesting contrast that the story is such a mystery, but it is presented by crystal clear writing.
The suspense begins immediately. Jerkins establishes a mystery that initially could involve a mixture of either crime or the supernatural, but a shift about a quarter way into the novel establishes exactly what type of story this is. Once that happens, the story may temporarily lose its allure for some readers, but most will be too curious to stop reading. Jerkins forwards the plot efficiently, using suspense in correct amounts so that the novel moves along as it should. At the End of the Road is better written than many stories of this genre, defying predictability with some interesting twists.
Even the title is not entirely as it seems. The title implies a question, which helps establish the sense of mystery, but it can be argued that the title is also a metaphor for the dwindling rural areas. Jerkins seems preoccupied with suburbanization, skillfully contrasting the country and suburbs, using their differences to enhance the story’s plot. This talented writing provides a form of social commentary that never seems out of place, becoming a major theme of the novel.
This is not as true for another major theme, religion. The prologue is titled “God Is,” which seems a precursor to an overarching message wrapped up in the story. Occasionally, Jerkins unnecessarily inserts characters’ religious beliefs; other times he detours to describe church activities. This is unavoidable, considering events that occur, but it becomes somewhat redundant after consistent use. The religious presence is very relevant to the story, but it lacks the suaveness of the interwoven contrasts between rural and urban life.
Despite its few flaws, At the End of the Road emerges as an engaging mystery, one which builds suspense throughout the story. Readers will be intrigued by Kyle’s struggles at the heart of occurrences. Jerkins may not entirely avoid all the formulaic pitfalls of a genre novel, but his skilled writing allows for a creative license which he takes full advantage of to both his and the reader’s benefit.