Cover Photo: This header image includes the cover of Adrienne Celt's new novel END OF THE WORLD HOUSE and her headshot.
Photograph by A. Mathiowetz/Book cover via Simon & Schuster

Adrienne Celt Asks, “What makes something meaningful?”

Julia Fine interviews Adrienne Celt about her new novel ‘End of the World House,’ writing time loops, and creating narrative architecture.

End of the World HouseMr. Fox

Julia Fine: is constantly asking, “What makes something meaningful?” be it art, an experience, a relationship. Is a masterpiece because of its aesthetics or because of its curation? I love that you’re exploring the concept of ideation and curation in all these unexpected ways—from Silicon Valley “diversification” to exhibits at the Louvre to the multiverse. In this spirit, and from a craft perspective, how did you “curate” the fundamentals of this book?

JF: Logistically, how did you then translate this idea into narrative architecture? I was taken with all the clues you left and the callbacks that provided a lovely sense of recognition as the plot fell together. For example, those women looking up at the museum from the courtyard, who we see from several different angles throughout the book. What was your process for overlaying all these different versions of Kate’s and Bertie’s lives in a way that invites the readers to move forward and also calls us back?

Where could you introduce small differences into a person’s life, or into the art market, or into an industry, and effect enormous change?Where could you introduce a change (like the women in the courtyard) that implies larger changes are possible and may already be happening outside your own level of awareness?

Where can I direct the reader’s eye?

JF: Without spoiling for those who haven’t yet read, I’d love to talk a little bit about decision-making and commitment in this novel. Kate and Bertie are foils throughout the book in how they process both the literal end (or beginning of the end) of the world and the end of the possibilities of their youth. We all get to an age where we’ve cut ourselves off from the majority of our possible futures, be it by choosing a romantic partner, taking a job, etc. It seemed to me that Bertie and Kate are right on the cusp of mid-adulthood—they aren’t the hot young things anymore, and their futures are theoretically and quite literally narrowing as environmental disaster and social unrest sweeps the globe. Everything is uncertain yet inevitable—which reminds me a bit of Aristotle’s call for a dramatic ending that’s surprising but also the only way things could have happened.

Ultimately your main characters deal with this stress in different ways, and I couldn’t help reading the end of the book as a sort of allegory for how we, as a society, respond to and move forward in “unprecedented times.” As you said, writing is decision-making, and it makes sense that the novel ultimately makes the choice to move forward, however uncertain or inevitable the future might be. But you also have a character who would rather sit in possibility and makes a drastic decision on behalf of this reluctance to commit. How do you see this functioning in relation to the other themes of the book? Did you know early on that you’d reach this dichotomy?

JF: Different as they are, the great romance of this book is between Bertie and Kate. Why write about two friends under these particular conditions, as opposed to a different kind of relationship?

JF: There’s a lot here that is absolutely heartbreaking, but I laughed out loud so many times. Did you consciously employ humor while writing? And relatedly—how did you manage to end an end-of-the-world novel on a hopeful note?

Julia Fine is the author of The Upstairs House, winner of the Chicago Review of Books Award for Fiction, and What Should Be Wild, which was shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Superior First Novel Award. She teaches writing in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and children.