When 40-something high school teacher Aaron loses his left arm in a car accident, he has a chance to overcome adversity and become a better man. But he’d rather pop a few Vicodin and smoke a joint.
Soon after regaining consciousness in his hospital room, the one-armed antihero of Pisani’s acerbic debut novel repeatedly invokes the memory of real-life computer science professor Randy Pausch, who delivered “The Last Lecture” to his students at Carnegie Mellon University after learning that he had terminal pancreatic cancer. The professor’s inspirational call to achieve one’s childhood dreams quickly went viral on YouTube. When Aaron becomes an Internet sensation, it's because his low-life brother-in-law posts footage of the teacher’s stump, newly tattooed to resemble a sea serpent. As Aaron recovers from his accident, he tries to regain his emotional and physical balance as he bunks with his divorced father and works as a fish counter at the local dam. All the while, Aaron nurses a healthy addiction to prescription pills and medical marijuana. (The names of the weed strains are nothing short of fantastic.) Never succumbing to the temptation to become treacly or sentimental, the story slowly evolves into one of brilliant cynical insight and raw tenderness as Aaron befriends a cast of misfits, including a foulmouthed 11-year-old cancer patient and a morally ambiguous fellow amputee. Pisani always stays on the right side of the line when introducing quirky elements, like his cougar mom, who lives in a yurt with her firefighting boyfriend, and a love interest Aaron knows only as a voice that broadcasts scientific tidbits on the local radio station.
Complete with painfully wry observations and delightfully caustic wit, this novel is a gritty exploration of what it’s like to feel incomplete in the world. All five fingers up for this bitterly satisfying tale.