In the late ’90s, a few pundits figured that one day we’d look back at the Y2K panic and laugh. Debut novelist Shay figures that day is here.
Randall Knight essentially lives off the grid. It’s 1998, and he spends his days touring the country as a puppeteer-singer, entertaining grade-schoolers during the day and drinking himself into a stupor at night. Not exactly a life with a promising future, but Randall figures the future’s irrelevant anyway: He’s wholly convinced that the Y2K bug will spell the ruin of modern civilization, and much of his human interaction is with fellow online “doomers” who are forever getting in flame wars with the skeptical “pollys” who don’t feel that New Year’s Day 2000 will mark the beginning of the apocalypse. The story lightheartedly follows Randall as he travels, preaching the Y2K gospel to those he crashes with. Randall’s clearly misguided, but the author smartly makes his hero an intelligent, entertainingly snarky fellow who often laments the company he keeps (“My life has come to this: meeting a pseudonymous crypto-racist gun nut in a café in Roanoke, Virginia”). And anyway, just about everybody in the country is wrapped up in some obsession or other at the fin-de-siècle: Randall’s uncle and aunt in Denver sell for Amway; his ex-girlfriend in San Francisco is seduced by the dot-com boom; all the kids are reading Harry Potter, which evangelicals figure is Satan’s doing; and the whole nation is sucked into the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Randall eventually drifts into the Texas home of a family whose conspiracy-theory paranoia trumps even his, but it brings him into the arms of the person who can help return him to the world of sensible citizenry. Shay clearly strains to neatly tie up the various plot threads, and his efforts to keep the mood light lead to some clunky jokes—but it’s mostly a sure-footed romp.
A smirking time capsule of millennial tension.