The End of the Whole Mess by Stephen King
Although I think Stephen King spews out more rubbish than he does commendable prose, you’ve got to hand it to the man: he is incredibly persistent in his quest to become the most prolific storyteller of all time.
The End of the Whole Mess is certainly one of the more enjoyable short stories King has written. It is narrated by writer Howard Fornoy, a man who has limited time on earth to type out his brother’s life story, Robert Fornoy, who he was forced to kill not moments before he began writing. Now Howard’s own life is slipping away and he must relay his story before whatever drugs he has taken begin to work.
Robert, or Bobby, was a child genius. His academic skills developed rapidly as he learned to read and write by the age of two, instigated successful scientific and sociological experiments throughout childhood and completed high school by the age of ten. Howard describes him as both a fascinating and fascinated boy who was consumed by a childlike urgency to learn and educate himself. However, this all changed at the age of sixteen when he returned from traveling in South America on an anthropological expedition; he matured and become deeply affected by humanity’s ability to self-destruct.
After a few more years of traveling and fueling himself with scientific knowledge, Bobby eventually moves to Waco in Texas and cuts himself off from his family. It’s not until years later that he shows up on Howard’s doorstep out of the blue, excitedly brandishing a bizarre wasp and bee experiment that he claims could help save the world.
Bobby explains that the majority of Texas is consumed with anger and crime, but Waco is a very placid place. After much investigation he deemed it was ‘something in the water’, and managed to create a potent concoction of this strange water that calmed and pacified the locals. Bobby demonstrated with the angry wasps in his hand that, after giving them this special tonic, the usually infuriated insects became incredibly calm – yet simultaneously alert and competent.
Bobby requires Howard’s help with this water. There is a volcano on an island not far from Borneo that is due to erupt in the near future. If they placed the water in this volcano before it erupted, the calming effects of it would spread across the entirety of earth and potentially rid the planet of anger, destruction and violence. The prospect of zero suffering on earth is enthralling to the innocent-minded and hopeful Bobby.
But will Howard agree to this? Or is this far-fetched plan just a naive concept devised by a crazed genius?
Like almost all of King’s works, I didn’t find the characters particularly likable in The End of the Whole Mess. I always find that there is a high level of coldness in his creations and this short story was no exception. The reader is given a great deal of background information on Bobby, who is an intelligent man oblivious to anything or anyone beyond his thirst for knowledge, but I never felt that he was anything more than an intellectual. Perhaps the Howard character is supposed to be empathised with more, but I found him quite bitter despite the fact that he claimed not to be. He was a rather dark and skeptical character even though there is no real cause for him to be this way.
However, King redeems himself with his plot. The basis of the short story was a fresh and interesting slant on the idea of friendly small towns in southern America, and the twist at the end was definitely in keeping with the stereotypical view of them. Also the concept of the Bobby character’s intelligence outgrowing his level of maturity was a believable and captivating notion. If children were highly intelligent and powerful would they not want to do something as fundamental as make all the mean people of the world less mean?
King’s short story was beautifully paced and intriguing, demonstrating his incredible skills as a writer, but I felt it lacked severely in characterisation. King seems to have pulled all the elements together to create an impressive concept, but his inherent coldness spoils what should have been an enticing and thrilling story.