It’s the summer of ’76 in rural Georgia and Kyle Edwards is ten years old and sitting on a whole lot of secrets. First there’s the car accident he caused when a woman crashed trying to avoid him riding his bike down the middle of the road. Then there’s the fire he and his little sister accidentally started that burned down a major section of the local woods. Finally there’s the things he must do to help his neighbor “the paralyzed man,” who is keeping the woman from the accident locked up in his attic, blackmailing the boy with the knowledge that Kyle started the fire.
In At the End of the Road we are lead into the fragile psyche of a small boy, with author Grant Jerkins playing up all the terror – both rational and irrational – that comes with being at such a helpless age. Most kids are afraid to get caught by their parents for whatever their minor trespasses may be, but Kyle’s sins actually have huge consequences, not just ones inflated by a child’s imagination. His world is a dangerous one, where the neighborhood boys think nothing of beating or sexually assaulting him, and where the creepy man in a wheelchair actually is the boogeyman you fantasize he is. As with his A Very Simple Crime and The Ninth Step, Jerkins is able to twist the seemingly ordinary into something palpably terrifying.
Over the course of going through Jerkins’s work the last couple months I have become a hugely devoted fan. Each book is distinctly different from the last (Simple Crime a twisted legal thriller/mystery, Road steeped in southern gothic horror while also being a coming of age story, Ninth Step a domestic drama with a blackmail plot as its hook), but their clear through-line is how Jerkins is so willing to get into the dark-night-of-the-soul nitty-gritty of his characters’ minds. This guy is someone to look out for, and you better believe I’m keeping my eyes open and my head on a fucking swivel for his next novel.