The year is 1932, and America is roiling with unrest. Angry WWI veterans, embittered by the ruinous poverty inflicted by the Great Depression, join forces and, calling themselves the Bonus Army, march on Washington to demand payment of the wartime bonus promised them for their service during the war.
Arthur and Douglas Sinclair, an impoverished veteran and his son, make the arduous journey from Kansas to join the march. Alden and Sutton Kelly, the rebellious children of a powerful Washington judge, become involved with the veterans’ struggle, causing an irreparable rift in the Kelly family. When the Bonus march explodes in a violent clash between government and veteran forces, Arthur is falsely accused of conspiracy and disappears. The lives of Douglas, Alden, and Sutton are forever changed—linked inextricably by the absence of Arthur Sinclair.
As these three lives unfold in the wake of the Bonus riots, we are taken to unexpected places—from the underground world of a Soviet spy to Hemingway’s Florida and the hard labour camps of Roosevelt’s New Deal Projects in the Keys; from occultist circles in London to occupied Paris and the eventual fall of Berlin; and finally, to the German prison camp where French composer Olivier Messiaen originally wrote and performed his famous Quartet for the End of Time. Taking us on an unforgettable journey through individual experience and memory against the backdrop of seismic historical events, Quartet for the End of Time is both a profound meditation on human nature and an astonishing literary accomplishment from one of Canada’s most original voices.
This intricate, ambitious novel by the author of The Sentimentalists (winner of the Giller Prize) takes its theme the illusions of time from Olivier Messiaen's musical composition of the same name. In 1932, an ad-hoc army of veterans occupies Washington, D.C., demanding the immediate payment of their demobilization bonuses. Rebellious Alden Kelly is drawn to the makeshift camps, where he falls prey to Communist operatives. When Alden is arrested carrying an explosive, his politically powerful father pressures the boy's young sister, Sutton, to falsely identify veteran Arthur Sinclair as the guilty party. Alden is released, but Arthur whose fate is never clear continues to haunt Alden, Sutton, and Arthur's son, Douglas, who crisscrosses the Depression-ravaged country in search of his father. Alden never frees himself from the incident's burden; as WWII ends, past and present, truth and illusion, merge in his mind. Like McEwan's Atonement, the novel examines an act of personal betrayal against a sweeping backdrop of historical conflict. The philosophical musings and narrative detours Skibsrud uses to manipulate time sometimes make the pacing sluggish. But at its best, the novel is a haunting meditation on responsibility with vivid glimpses of history, and a distinctive and nuanced voice.