By Elizabeth Flock
To backtrack a little, to the 18th book I finished in 2019…
My initial reaction was that I didn’t like it. It might be that it’s from a male perspective, and I just didn’t really relate to the way Henry Powell approached the world. I didn’t like how he was a loner with extreme OCD either.
Henry is called back from college to tend to his decaying parents in his home town, gets a job selling clothes, and goes through the same routines every day of his life. The years go by without much change, other than the yearly sale the shop has where he knows old acquaintances from high school will stop in. These old football buddies barely remember him, and one night he finds the whole group of them at dinner together, without him. They’ve all made a life for themselves, while he just watched his pass by. Downright depressing.
Henry’s most exciting moments are in his head, where he’s a rock star or other famous person. He goes through pretend interviews in his head, imagining that all the mundane details of his life are being carefully detailed by a biographer. He also makes up fake conversations and scenarios with people in his life. He fantasizes that he marries the girl he likes in the future, and they look back fondly at their first few dates. But a few dates are as far as it gets, and he continues to secretly obsess about her for many years.
I thought the title meant that he was going to get rid of all his belongings and get the hell out of town. That’s the moment I was waiting for, because moving and starting over is so appealing to me. When he just stuck with it and let the years pass, my entire being was screaming, “Go!”. But Henry knows how to commit, unlike others. The title actually refers to the store closing that he’d dedicated his life to, and the sign on the window says: “Everything Must Go”. So there’s some conclusion to this phase of his life, but it’s just left open-ended. He doesn’t move far far away like I’d hoped he would.
Maybe the light from this book is that Henry gives up his own life for others. Throughout the story, he puts other people over himself. He bases almost all his choices on getting the approval of others, without thinking about what he wants to do with his own life. He altered his educational path to be there with his parents. He shows up to work on time every day and never takes time off, in order to please his boss (not that being late is a good thing, I just mean he is fully dedicated to a job that gives him basically nothing). It reminds me of Michael Scott, who worked at Dunder Mifflin Paper Company for around 20 years, (or 9,986,000 minutes to be exact).
He’s the kind of guy who over analyzes every interaction like many introverts tend to do, cringing at how awkward they were. I know I’ve been there, before I realized that it doesn’t even matter because the other person forgot all about me right after the interaction.
This is the kind of story that makes you want to do something important and interesting – not because you’re reading about things you want to do, but because you don’t want to end up with Henry’s life. It’s inspiring in a way that people from your childhood inspire you to be nothing like them. Henry inspires me to not let my goals and dreams go in favor of staying in my comfort zone.
Maybe this story bothered me extra because I’m from a small town that I just moved back to, and it awakened a fear that I’m going to become a nobody that no one remembers. But I’ve already found love (the bad and the good kind), already partied and had some wild fun, and I’m still questioning life and growing and changing every day. I would still consider myself pretty Tart (but not as much of a wreck as Claudia Bloom). People remember me and are glad to see me when I come around. And I intend to create many more memories with the people around me, which I think is the best part of life.
It’s an interesting and unique tactic to write about a life gone bad in order to inspire readers to change up their own life so they have nothing to regret later. Henry may not be a hero, but he is a lovable and pitiable anti-hero. I went from feeling like I missed the point of this story to finally grasping its meaning for me. This story awakened a desire in me to continue moving forward with my life and never stagnate.