Stephen King's "The End to the Whole Mess"

Discussion and Review
(with mild to moderate spoilers)

"The End to the Whole Mess", a short story written by Stephen King discussing the rise and fall of the Fornoy brothers (Howie a writer, Bobby a scientist), eschews the normal pacing of a post apocayptic story, and could almost be seen to be an ironic reversal, in which the build up to the apocalypse is more important than what comes afterwards. The aftermath of the actions is less important than the actions, while at the same time the apocalyptic outcome is maintained as the entire point of the story. The apocalypse, in this case, is the devastating mental effects caused by a protein which promotes nonviolent behavior and helps keep everyone calm.

It also seems to be a fairly shallow attack on the scientist or politician that would take the fate of mankind into his or her own hands; as well as an attack on those that pushed progress without taking time to study it and undersand it. A similar rant against uncontrolled science is in the novel/movie Jurassic Park.

These two elements, the switching of the focus of the post-acolyptic story about the dangers of science to the pre-apocalypse, add up to what could be taken as an apologetic. Though the outcome is deemed horrible, the writing does not, in itself, condemn the Fornoy brothers. Not suprising, as the story is told from the view of one of them (the conceit being that it is actually written by the writer Fornoy, Howie), who has always naturally defended the other.

But what should the reader feel? This is a tricky one to answer. The story's climax falls far to the right of the fulcrum. With the exception of half a dozen hints or direct references dropped in an almost non-emotional dialogue, the slam dunk happens after the narrative structure breaks down (in story). To really glance what happened, you have to somewhat decode Fornoy's final paragraphs and combine them with the other, obvious, clues. The apocalypse is mostly hinted towards, and hinted towards by a person with less than stellar mental capabilities. The world's reaction on both ends is left out, with only vague hints of a suicide here or there. The story fails to account for people in desert regions. There are those delicious little tidbits, though, that help to keep it going; such as a briefly mentioned and quickly left bloodtype discussion, implying a much greater wealth of information being skimmed over (kudos to King to not going back and tweaking that into a completely explained thing, rare for some of his earlier stuff).

The interesting thing about the story is the vehicle of the message. Peace. Stephen King has been a vocal advocate for peace for some time. Generally speaking, most of us would ultimately prefer peace. A plan to engineer world peace through a unknown protein (found in the human brain? I don't understand, maybe he meant "that worked in the human brain") and a large volcano (leave it to a writer to put together disparate facts in a way that no one expects) is an inherently good act, with the sticky question of self-determination. Yet, it backfires and the world suffers. This brings to mind such things as global warming or deforestation or depopulation of animal species. In all of these cases, it would seem that stopping them is an inherently good act. The problem is the fact that quick solutions are more likely to backfire than to work, like the whole foxes and rabbits things in English history.

What, ulimately, is the moral? Think before you leap? Double check everything? We are doomed, so might as well as try? Or not try?

No, I think in the end, the moral is that brothers will often love one another to the bitter end. Seems like that is as good as any.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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