The epistolary novel lives, albeit in this rather strange variation.
Theodore (who always goes by “T.”) Rimberg has pretty much given up on life—not surprising since he’s lost his corporate job (when he finds he’s gotten an inheritance from his father he strips during a boring company meeting), as well as his wife, his children and his mistress. He decides to take the usual way out, by taking his own life, but not before he has written a multitude of bizarre suicide notes to the likes of President Clinton, Paul McCartney, Jack Nicholson—and Mrs. Carter (T.’s high-school English teacher, who “sucked” because she thought his poetry should rhyme). The twist is that these events happened a year in the past. In the present, T. has recently been involved in a mysterious and fiery crash and has emerged both a hero and a changed man. The narrative has a complex structure, alternating his year-of-crisis documents (suicide notes, journal entries) with transcripts of T.’s side of conversations with Father Barry, a sympathetic priest whose voice we never hear directly. Father Barry is interested in what miracle might have occurred in the conflagration, for T. has become something of a media darling. Both the letters and journals trace T.’s tangled relationship with his father, a distant figure who seems to have had more love for the Green Bay Packers than for his son. In exploring his family’s past (his grandfather, a successful German Jew, colluded with the Nazis) and reviewing his relationship with his father, T. becomes aware of the “miracle” of realizing the preciousness of his life and of all life: “Thank God I am.”
Herbach’s debut is an odd read—simple, even spartan, on one hand, but luxuriantly flaky on the other.