Instead of following his protagonist from cradle to grave, Wallace, in this clever follow-up to his well-received first novel,
Big Fish (1998), replays the life of an ordinary man who pretty much sleepwalked through his time on earth.
Ray Williams is in Heaven. It’s not so much that he’s led an exemplary life, but just that he hasn’t done anything worse
than occasionally cheating on his wife and accidentally running over a dog. But even in Heaven, at least the one created by
Wallace, there are certain requirements, and it seems that one of the responsibilities of those who check in is to join a group.
You know, one of those 12-step, touchy-feely groups where you discuss your problems, your shortcomings, your hopes, your
dreams (well, okay, once you’ve reached Heaven the hopes and dreams part is pretty much moot). Somehow, leapfrogging an
extensive waiting list, Ray finds himself in one of the more popular groups—Last Words—where folks sit around on metal
folding chairs and discuss those final pearls of wisdom uttered just before shuffling off. Ray, who died early from cancer, just
short of 50, has last words ("I wish") but unfortunately, as last words go, the group finds these ones pretty banal, and so he
angrily stalks off, looking for another group to join. And while he searches, we’re treated to Ray’s life, in reverse, in a series
of entertaining, sometimes moving, sometimes comic, sometimes sad flashbacks that eventually bring us back again to Heaven,
where Ray, rejoining his group, offers a Rosebud-like answer to the meaning of his life.
A deft and economical writer with a fine ear for dialogue, Wallace has produced a finely wrought novel that often reads
like a series of short stories building in power as this life unfurls from front to back. (Author tour)