I fell in love with Clare Mackintosh through her strong thrillers. Her sleight-of-hand twists never cease to amaze me. Except, After the End is not one of her thrillers. Instead, it is a deeply personal and heartrending story of parents forced to make an unthinkable choice and their lives after making that choice.
One sign that we left a typical Mackintosh far behind is how she tells her story. Told through the eyes of each parent, After the End has a bit of a choose your own adventure feel to it. Not only do we see the story through both Pip’s and Max’s eyes, but we also follow each of the two paths from the choice Pip and Max must make. Both versions are equally brutal in the constant emotional battering that occurs. It truly is a case of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t, and Ms. Mackintosh shows all of it without mercy.
Personally, I found nothing redemptive about either path. My heart broke over and over again as Pip and Max each weather their new normals, if only because I kept dwelling on what could have been had one thing been different. Because of this, either ending upset me because I could not accept them. I still want a third path, one which would be just as emotional and upsetting but which, to me, remains true to Pip and Max as a couple. Call me a romantic or someone seeking some form of happiness in this story that has little.
Intense in a completely different way, After the End is still an excellent read, if only because it makes you cherish what you have and improves your empathy skills for those for whom the story is their reality. Just don’t look for it to make you feel good or help escape reality. Ms. Mackintosh is a bit too good at what she does for that.