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The former president of a Montana separatist group, a couple of street crazies, a crushed-out computer programmer, the quantum physicist of the title and more appear in Felber’s raucous, willfully absurd debut.

There’s eventually a moment when most of these folks come together. But it’s not exactly a climax, and Felber’s pretty much chucked the plot machine—instead, he’s crafted an assortment of vignettes designed to expose the beautiful randomness of existence. In Cambridge, Mass., a folkie named Johnny inspires an enormous cult following based on a single performance, but now he’s supposedly dead; across town, Dr. Erwin Schrödinger (who, yes, should also be dead) begins selling palm-sized molecules with the help of a young woman he met at a yogurt shop; meanwhile, a rat named Lester lusts after a piece of meat he’s spotted, but he’s a little panicky because there are people hovering nearby and he’s recently stepped in a foul-smelling egg yolk. Why is this novel not an unhinged, inchoate mess? For one thing, Felber keeps a genial, clear-headed tone throughout, and he’ll spike the story with interesting shifts in writing styles—at one point, the novel becomes the script for a World War II-era newsreel; at another, short-circuits into binary code; and at yet another, two old pals fall into Shakespearean speech, complete with monologues in iambic pentameter. Mainly, though, it gets its power from the details each individual story accrues—that rat and Dr. Schrödinger never meet, but half the fun is realizing that they’re both floating around Cambridge together. Felber has embraced postmodern fiction’s favorite themes—narratives can’t be trusted, reality is subjective, humans are subject to larger forces—and turned it into a work of broad comedy instead of a fit of fatalistic handwringing.

All over the place, but that’s the point.

Pub Date: Aug. 22nd, 2006
ISBN: 0-8129-7442-5
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2006