"A New Novel by Adam Gnade is a Love Letter to San Diego--and to a Rocky Past"

by Julia Dixon Evans

In a new novel by former local Adam Gnade, San Diego takes on a starring role. But "This Is The End of Something But It's Not The End Of You" is not precious about it; this city, often caricatured, mocked or just scratched on the surface in its portrayals in media and art, is treated with a sort of in-depth obviousness. Like the boroughs of New York, neighborhood names are thrown out with a confidence, and more specific name-drops like taco shops, businesses, schools, sections of boardwalks and highways all contribute to a sense that San Diego is big and important, and if you don't know its ins and outs, that's your fault.

It's a presumptuous approach to writing a book where place is so significant — not just in the atmosphere, but also in how the tribulations of main character James Bozic unfold. James struggles through a beach-town childhood but it's the grimy, unrelenting underbelly and poor choices of beach-town life that drive both the plot and some delightfully familiar (and visceral) prose.

"That day at the foot of Zanzibar Court, the day I found out about Sonny's death, the ocean as seen from the boardwalk was dark, flat, wind-chopped into tufts of white spray-back. It was a warm, breezy day — overcast — the sand, sea, and sky the same dark hot gray. It was, in a fashion, a dramatic gray — alive, vibrant, tumultuous. It felt like change, like a new city on the desert horizon as you ride toward it."

James reads like an easy autofiction stand-in for Gnade, author of four other books, a recording artist and former editor of the beloved '00s-era alt-weekly "Fahrenheit San Diego." We watch James grow from a sullen, lost, awkward nerd kid at Pacific Beach Elementary into a somewhat more poised but still adrift adult, following the same trajectories as Gnade.

But Gnade welcomes — and resists — the speculation.

"To me this book and the rest of mine are novels in which everything is both made-up and true and there are no clear lines of distinction or designation drawn or boundaries imposed upon the plot and narrative," Gnade told me. "Sometimes it's better to let a question remain unanswered. There's a certain wonderfulness in having more questions than you've got answers."

The timeline of this book is sweeping and memoir-like, spanning from an opening scene with his first grade teacher reading "The Hobbit," through a year-by-year romp of his education, then into the mistakes, moves and dreams of burgeoning adulthood. By the end, we've accompanied James through his obsession with a family mystery and a set of ominous but poetic postcards; we've been through an unrequited love so powerful he settles into a presumed lovelessness; we've been through places that aren't San Diego: Portland, Baja, the desert, rural Kansas; and then, beautifully, we're somehow, sort of, back where we started but new and transformed.

The story is strongly rooted in home, but just as powerful is the way these characters are untethered. After a novel's worth of chasing dreams around the country, this city stands triumphant and uncontested, even if someone can't or won't return (or just hasn't yet). We're fed this triumph in small ways, but also in big, proud ways: A slice of a memory of the way Miss Shoac read about Thorin Oakenshield's death in "The Hobbit," a long, indulgent discussion of the superiority of San Diego's burritos mere pages from the end, and through it all, there's a type of aimlessness mixed with very specific, wistful aims.

"Throughout it all, even on the best days, I thought of home," Gnade writes.

San Diego has agency beyond just being a place to visit or escape from, but in "This Is The End Of Something," this is both challenged and accepted. It's okay to have a love-hate relationship with San Diego, but the city is also bigger than that and its impact on James outlasts his attempts to outrun it.

The book's actual, literal production is also a celebration of San Diego. Published in a collaboration from San Diego-based Three One G Records (run by Justin Pearson) and Pioneers Press, the book's acknowledgement page rattles off a list of local literary and music figures as early readers and Gnade's support system.

Unsurprisingly, music and local journalism have strong ties in the novel, bolstering the characters as they navigate getting older, grieving, finding careers and/or meaning. As his story comes to a close, James muses, "I thought of how sometimes in the midst of survival, life will jerk you away from your home, how it will push you out across the map, away from the people you love, or into the path of others. … Everything will change aways."

Gnade's relationship with San Diego is as complicated as his characters'. "I believe the San Diego I'm writing about is true, but it's a representation. It's art. Artifice. So by the very nature of me telling it, it loses some of its objectivity, some of its reality, and ventures into fantastical waters," he said. Simultaneously bird's-eye and in-the-weeds, Gnade's San Diego is glamorized from a distance and filthy with reality. 


"44 Amazing Book Recommendations from our Favorite Indie Bookstores"


by Arianna Rebolini and Justin Epstein

Adam Gnade is a San Diego native and a big favorite with the locals. His latest novel follows the semi-autobiographical James Bozic as he grows up in the San Diego beach town of Pacific Beach — a place many spring breakers may be familiar with! As James encounters the many dreams and despairs of young adulthood, his experiences are shaped by his environment — San Diego, with its glaring sunlight, salty breezes, hole-in-the-wall taco shops and endless highways. The setting is immediately familiar to San Diegans and illuminating to others. Gnade's characters navigate a homey, authentic side of San Diego the tourists rarely get to experience. His book is a must-read for those who want to experience San Diego from a local's perspective. —Verbatim Books owner Justine Epstein


"Adam Gnade Has a Deep Love for San Diego's Darker Side"


by Karla Peterson

If you have spent any of your formative years in San Diego, you will recognize many of the geographical landmarks in Adam Gnade’s new novel, “This Is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You.” Perhaps you learned to read at Pacific Beach Elementary School. Perhaps you bought your after-school snacks at a mini-mart on Grand Avenue and Lamont Street. Maybe you acquired the makings of a massive hangover in a ratty party house on Zanzibar Court. Maybe you smothered said hangover with a plate of carne asada fries from Taco Surf.

If you did not grow up in San Diego, no worries. If you are now or have ever been a bullied kid, an alienated teen or a 20-something trying to find your professional groove without acquiring an ulcer, you will see bits of yourself in Gnade’s hero, the perpetually conflicted James Jackson Bozic. And you might also find comfort in James’ journey, which spends a lot of time in many dark places before finding its way to a welcoming patch of light.

“The book deals with a lot of hard ideas about death and the loss of friends and dislocation, but I wanted to give it a gentle, reassuring final word,” said Gnade (pronounced “guh-naw-dee”), who will be holding a book release party at Verbatim Books in North Park on Saturday. “It is pretty reflective of my life. I wouldn’t say I’m happy all the time, but I definitely have a lot of joy. I’m still struggling very regularly, but the struggle feels right. It feels like I’m on a good course to someday do something better.”

The thing Gnade wants to do better is the thing he has been doing for his entire professional life. The thing he discovered when his high-school self read an article about Portugal in a travel magazine and decided that he was going to be a writer, and that his writing travels would never take him too far from the place that would always be home.

A native San Diegan, the 44-year-old Gnade grew up in Pacific Beach, where he and his fellow latchkey kids explored abandoned houses, ate their dinners at 7-Eleven (nachos and Funyuns with ice-cream sandwiches for dessert) and survived the tortures of their middle- and high-school years with varying degrees of success.

Gnade graduated from Mission Bay High School in 1994 and promptly sold a story about a typical day in his young life to the San Diego Reader. He attended Mesa College “for about a second” before embarking on a writing career that included an internship at Revolt In Style, a few years at SignOn San Diego (an early digital version of the San Diego Union-Tribune), and freelancing for San Diego’s SLAMM magazine and other publications.

In 2002, Gnade and a group of friends started Fahrenheit San Diego, an alternative weekly that lasted for two stressful years, in which Gnade drank too much, slept too little and watched his co-workers struggle with ulcers and other health issues. When the magazine went bust, Gnade did a lot of road-tripping before settling in Portland, where he wrote for the Portland Mercury and began plotting the next chapter of his writing life.

“I have always wanted to write well and sell books,” Gnade said during a phone interview from the farm outside of Leavenworth, Kansas, where he has lived since 2010. “Struggling with that over the years has been great, and the pain of that has been good pain. Having one thing to focus all of your efforts on is very healthy and sustaining. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found writing.

Gnade’s literary career kicked off with the 2008 publication of “Hymn California,” the first in a series of autobiographical works that includes the novel “Caveworld” (published in 2013), the novella “Locust House,” and “This is the End of Something But It’s Not the End of You,” a bittersweet tribute to Gnade’s hometown that came out last week. On Valentine’s Day, appropriately enough.

In the novel, young James starts out as a happy Pacific Beach Elementary first-grader only to become a miserable Dungeons & Dragons-obsessed middle-schooler and then an anxious Mission Beach High student. Teen James somehow survives both a hellacious acid trip and a friend’s suicide before finding his place with the goth kids, artists and free spirits of San Diego’s underground punk and art scene.

Other adult adventures ensue, as James moves to Portland, gets his heart broken, launches a writing career, and eventually moves to a farm in the Midwest, where the California kid finds the peace, quiet and distance he needs to write about the town that made him who he is. A town of perfect burritos, unexpected shadows and a love that will never fade into the sunset off Crystal Pier.

“San Diego is always home to me. That is one of the reasons why I will always write about it,” said Gnade, whose parents still live in the house he grew up in. “One of my plans is to come back at some point. It’s like in a fairy tale, where you go out and seek your fortune, and you can’t come home until you have found it. I think that’s what I’ve been doing since I left. And when I find that unknowable thing, then I’ll come home.”



"This Kansas Author Finds Solace in Isolation"

by Anne Kniggendorf

On a chunk of unincorporated land outside of Leavenworth, Kansas, Adam Gnade has more or less been self-isolating for 10 years.

He's quick to say that he has a lot of friends, it's just that as someone who spends his days writing, that lifestyle makes sense to him.

Like the protagonist of his third novel, "This is the End of Something but it's Not the End of You," Gnade's migration to Midwest farmland was slow and intentional. Part of a process, even.

"It's always been a dream of mine to live rurally and have a lot of space to roam and kind of call the shots a little bit more in my life," Gnade (pronounced guh-naw-dee) says by phone. "And you can't really do that in places like San Diego or Portland. Out here you can." 

His creative endeavors are widespread enough that the desire for extra physical space makes some sense.

In addition to his novels, he's also recorded what he refers to as "talking songs," mostly spoken stories with musical or ambient accompaniment, available on Spotify and Apple Music.

He says the recordings and books form a continuous storyline, though they need not be listened to or read in any particular order. The stories aren't serialized but make up a world where certain characters, like James Bozic in this newest novel, always appear.

"I hope to leave behind a substantial body of work one day that tells a personal history of America in both books and recorded form," Gnade says.

Gnade and the character, James, have a good deal in common, so much so that his work might be classified as "auto fiction."  

In a 2017 interview with Bandcamp Daily, he commented that the recurring character is "as close to my own self as any of the characters are."

From afar, the clearest similarity is that they were both born and raised in San Diego, blew tornadically between Portland, Oregon, and Norfolk, Virginia, then back to California before putting down roots in Kansas.

The constant relocation reads like self-harm for a character who struggles with depression and anxiety. In fact, various forms of self-harm and subsequent self-healing make up the bulk of the story.

"Every day I wake up and I think, this feels like an ending," James tells a friend. He explains that as a child his head was full of possibilities, the feeling that anything could happen.

In that same conversation, he confides that, as an adult, "I feel like instead of possibilities and an exciting future, I have finality showing up behind every door."

All the same, he knocks on one "door" after another, peering through the peepholes of people's eyes searching for the one who'll provide refuge and comfort. Then, another break-up, another move.

An aspiring writer, James secures employment at various small publications, but none of that sticks either. He writes:

"I used to believe the most important thing was to survive, but when you start looking at your life as a war you inherit the bad traits of a soldier. I don't want to settle for survival anymore. What I want is to find the healthiest, safest, most rewarding life I can while taking the rough days as they come. You try to be as ready as you're able for this, and that is as much as you can do."

Then James and a couple of friends stake out a piece of Kansas farmland. His drinking binges decrease as does his self-loathing.

It's as if the geography externalizes his inner landscape in a way that's healing.

Gnade writes: 

"On the border of Kansas and Missouri, it was jungle hills and fireflies, lake swimming, dramatic thunderstorms. In the spring and long into summer, it felt more like a Southern state than Midwestern. It was soft and gentle and giving, but if could also be mean. It could crush you and fray your nerves and wear you down. I saw a new hardness in people I'd never noticed. The strain of disappointment, long winters, vanishing resources, a dying job market." 

Gnade says that the coronavirus has interrupted his plan to move even deeper into the country. Car crashes and sirens make more frequent appearances on his road than they did a decade ago, and he no longer has the level of solitude he craves.

He says that while it helps to be alone all day while he channels all his energy into writing, it's also not great because it can lead him to "darker places." 

In order to avoid the darkness, he says, “I think while you’re doing this you need to find things that you do every single day to give you some kind of order and some kind of stability in the chaos."



"Adam Gnade Is Not a Monster Anymore"

by Jim Ruland

Some things you should know about Adam Gnade: He’s a writer and a musician. He lives on a farm, and his new novel This Is the End of Something But It's Not the End of You came out last week. 

I had the pleasure of writing a blurb for the novel and here’s what I said, “Adam Gnade cuts through the clutter of late capitalism’s excess, exposing the raw, pulsing core of American loneliness and heartbreak. Read this book.”

Adam will be celebrating the release of This Is the End of Something But It's Not the End of You at Verbatim Books this Saturday, so asked him a few questions via email to find out what we can expect. 

JR: This Is the End of Something But It's Not the End of You is an autobiographical novel set partly in San Diego. Can you talk about your San Diego roots?

AG: Grew up in P.B., North County a little, Point Loma, various trailerparks during some harder times when I was small—Campland-by-the-Bay at De Anza Cove, Santa Fe Trailerpark alongside the 5 by the canyons. Wikipedia says I lived in Clairemont. Not at all true. Lived in Golden Hill as a young adult. Golden Hill is still my favorite place in town. Left ages ago and spent a long time on the road before ending up where I am. San Diego's in my blood. Best burritos, greatest bands, coolest neighborhoods. I'm an awful snob and I love good things and San Diego gives you some of the finest things of all. Pokez, Verbatim, Kindred, all-things Three One G, Ohcult, Demetrius Antuña, the Che Cafe, Black Moon Design, Chicano Soul Food, Acamonchi, the Casbah, Gravity Records, Vinyl Communications, the Relics, Beehive and the Barracudas, all-things John Reis, Heartwork Coffee, Rival Squad, Physics, Burn All Books, Sdzinefest, Tristeza, El Cotixan on Genesee, Saguaro's, Rancho's, so much love. It's also the place I write most about and I believe wholeheartedly that bit from A Moveable Feastabout how it's easier to see a place clearly in order to write about it once you've left. 

JR: That’s a great endorsement for this city! Why did you leave?

AG: I left because I was looking for something. I didn't know what that something was, but I was dissatisfied and felt like I was dying or becoming a vampire or cracking up. I spent a lot of time looking for it. I still don't know what it is and once I find it I'll move back home. For now I'm on the endless pilgrimage from Southwark to Canterbury, making shit up to try to win the challenge of the Host, but my stories have cowboys and depressed art kids instead of knights. I guess cowboys are kind of our version of knights, at least in a completely unrealistic mythic sense. I mean us as Americans.

JR: To what extent does the novel reflect your experience in San Diego print media?

AG: I quit journalism to write fiction quite a while ago, but I cut my teeth in print media and it works its way into all my books. This one less than others, I guess. A few mentions. Bigger one in the Mexico chapter. A magazine internship. (It's also in the half of the book that takes place outside San Diego, the Portland chapters mostly.) I love journalism in a very idealistic, fundamental way. It's a noble pursuit, and it's important, increasingly so as the weeklies nosedive and as our current shit-lord turns his followers against the free press. Nonpropagandist journalism is vital to the health of the state. Much more so than fiction writing. Fiction is what I want to do most, but I grew up wanting to be Joan Didion and Jessica Hopper.

JR: You have a knack for captivating titles, like Do It Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherf**kin' Sad. What kind of feelings are you hoping to stir up with This Is The End of Something But It's Not the End of You?

AG: The book is largely about death and change, and the feeling that things are constantly ending. The title is sort of about survival, but it's also to remind people that most ends are really not ends at all—they're changes. It's meant to be hopeful. That all gets spelled-out at the end of the book. The last three pages if anyone wants to skip ahead.

JR: Have you had any interesting responses to the title from readers? 

AG: I've had some people say they didn't feel like they necessarily had to read the book. The title was good enough and they got what they needed from it and were satisfied. I guess it's like reading the headline of an article, but not the article itself. We all do it. I don't have a New York Times subscription, as much as I want one, so I read a lot of headlines. I read a lot of headlines and think, "Oh that must be interesting." The online subscription isn't expensive, I don't think, but I'm fundamentally opposed to auto-payments. I know too many people who have dozens of them, but never have gas money. I opt out entirely. My income isn't stable enough. Sometimes I make tons of money off my books and some months it's close to nothing. 

JR: I really admire how you combine punk DIY aesthetics with 21st century technology to promote and sell your work. I hear writers say, “I hate marketing my work” or “I’m no good at self-promotion.” But your approach seems to get to something deeper and more authentic. Can you talk about that?

AG: I don't know if I have much of a plan in that regard or whether it's authentic and deeper in any sense; I've never had anyone tell me that before, but cool, thank you. It's mostly just hustling constantly on all avenues I know of in order to pay my way through life. I don't have anything else to fall back on so I'm always fighting to keep the lights on. There's not much thought into it besides that. I guess my motto with the Internet is something like "Get in and then get out." I'm very much an obsessive planner, but not with that. I guess it's the consistency that counts. But also not being overly consistent.

JR: You have a relatively new project called Hello America. What’s that about? 

AG: It's a literary magazine at Hello America with the aim of publishing the work of writers living in very small towns and in rural situations. It's a voice that's often under-represented. I should say I don't feel at all marginalized myself; I've been very fortunate with my writing career, but there are a lot great writers out there who are overlooked because they don't live in New York City or because they can't afford an MFA or don't teach. I've been doing the magazine since October. I really don't know what I'm doing, but I also don't care. I'm just kind of letting it happen. 

JR: What can we expect from you reading at Verbatim Books on Saturday, February 22 at 7pm? 

AG: Well, I'll be reading two pieces. Each about ten minutes. One is from the new book and the other is an unpublished thing I've been messing with. Demetrius Francisco Antuña will be backing me up with some live ambient music as I read. Julia Dixon Evans and Bridget McGee Houchins are opening the night with readings from their books, so show up early and catch them too. Should be fun. Anyone who might be apprehensive about the show after seeing a couple of my Casbah talking-backed-by-music events, don't worry. I've stopped drinking pint glasses of gin and throwing mic stands into the audience ages ago. This'll be a chill night. I'm not a monster anymore.



by Ryan Bradford

Even though Adam Gnade no longer lives in San Diego, his writing courses with the blood of this city. Tonight, he’s releasing his new book, This Is The End Of Something But It’s Not The End of You, which is a fantastic, slightly Kerouac-ian chronicle of San Diego/Mexico in the late-‘90s/2000s. It’s full of heartbreak and hope, and I highly recommend it if you want to feel something. Demetrius Antuña (from dark post-punk band Tulpa Luna) will provide musical accompaniment, and special guests Julia Dixon Evans and Bridget McGee Houchins—two very talented writers—will also read. 



"Beautiful and REAL and so much hopefulness growing out of darks places. Written for both idealist who feel heavy with the world and pessimists who need to be reminded of possibilities. A deeply reflective story of never giving up on the chance of something being good." -Sam

"The *indie* great American novel. Simply stunning." -Devon DeRaad

"Adam Gnade’s writing always has this way of picking my crumpled heart out of the trash can and smoothing it out—this book is no exception. I loved every bit of it." -Shawna

"The best book I’ve read in 2019." -Benno Martens

"My favorite Gnade yet. This one feels like his most focused work, but still has that loose style that comes off as having been written fast and wild but with great care. It's like all of my favorite Springsteen songs." -Michael



This is the End of Something But It's Not the End of You and Adam Gnade featured in Publisher's Weekly