A comical novel explores the consequences of saving the world.
Boise, Idaho, native Shelby Albert Goddard has saved the world. The details of how, exactly, he did this remain murky but it is true: Without Shelby’s actions, the planet would no longer exist. And this deed has made Shelby quite the celebrity. He can purchase 10-cent tacos at Taco Bell; he never has to pay taxes again; and his face has been added to Mount Rushmore. But for all his good fortune, Shelby is lonely. The only person he can really talk to is a secret agent named Roger Valkyrie, who, when dressed in a suit, looks strikingly like Agent Smith in The Matrix. As Shelby’s fame wanes, he decides to hit the road. He takes up with a fledgling church in Arkansas and gets hired by a mysterious, wealthy company in Chicago. He makes people worry that he may jump off a bridge and he creates his own foundation to help those in need. But what, in the end, will he learn about himself? Gray’s (Exile on Kalamazoo Street, 2014, etc.) story indulges in whimsy from the start. While Shelby may not be able to articulate what he did to save the globe, it doesn’t really matter. From the opening pages, he is off and running, buying his low-cost fast food and looking for somewhere to go. That he winds up in places as ordinary as Arkansas and Chicago makes his journey even stranger. The problem is that his adventure often fails to have much tension. In Chicago, Shelby eats deep-dish pizza, drinks Scotch, and engages in some laughable corporate speak (He is told to remember “visions, synergies, and realignments”) yet there isn’t much pressure at work. Does it really matter if he succeeds or fails? Shelby’s tastes may make him a likable enough protagonist yet not necessarily one worth rooting for. Nevertheless, to say the entire trip is an odd one is an understatement. As much as readers might like to know where the story is going, they will enjoy the abundant twists and turns down the road.
While it sometimes meanders, this amusing tale with a quirky hero offers plenty of surprises.