How well can we ever truly know another person? The exceptional first memoir from novelist Daniel Wallace (Big Fish), This Isn’t Going to End Well: The True Story of a Man I Thought I Knew, explores this question in a way that is simultaneously sharp-edged and loving, honest and painfully haunting.
Wallace’s honed prose and hypnotic pacing carry readers through a layered narrative intertwining the author’s life with those of his friend and brother-in-law William Nealy, his sister Holly and, tangentially, William’s best friend, Edgar. The result is a complicated story of love and loathing and, ultimately, Wallace’s complex deconstruction of his friendship with William after he died by suicide.
Daniel Wallace shares more about his discovery that writing a memoir is “very, very, very hard.”
A talented cartoonist, illustrator, whitewater adventurer and writer, William was a lodestar for Wallace. Their first encounter was during a pool party at Wallace’s childhood home. William was Holly’s 18-year-old boyfriend at the time, and he was perched on their roof, calculating the distance to the swimming pool below. Eventually he jumped through the air, landed in the water, made a huge splash and climbed back onto the roof to do it again. From that moment, the 12-year-old Wallace was “spellbound” by William’s “wildness, the derring-do, his willingness to take flight—literally—into the unknown. . . . He flew, and I, who couldn’t, just watched.”
Over time, Wallace’s relationship with William took root and grew—as a role model, friend, brother-in-law and creative inspiration. “He showed me how it was done: experience, imagine, then create,” Wallace writes. There were road trips across state borders toting illegal drugs, fishing expeditions, raucous rock concerts and other chaotic adventures. Though he was outwardly charismatic, inventive and Clint Eastwood-style macho, William was also Holly’s sensitive and devoted husband, becoming her caretaker as her rheumatoid arthritis worsened.
“But there were two Williams,” Wallace writes. “One was . . . the William we all knew. There was another we didn’t know . . . the William who lived in his own secret room, the narrow confines of an interior life with space for only one, and a much darker space than I’d ever imagined it would be.” It was not until well after William’s tragic death by suicide at age 48 that Wallace discovered a fuller picture of what both drove and tormented William. As Wallace moved through his anger at discovering a version of William he’d never known while William was alive, he gradually realized that even if you cannot fully know another human being, there is at least the possibility that you can, through kindness and self-compassion, know a measure of yourself.