Though tethered to the rude vicissitudes of everyday life, this fine, sly first novel also boasts a sweet, intoxicating buffer of magic and apocalypse.
The story opens with Buddy, a made-for-TV wrestler, on the skids and headed for the edge. Our boy is just barely keeping it together with pills and beer and memories. Four years ago, Buddy’s wife Alix left him, taking his much-loved daughter to go live with the director of a movie company that had come to their hometown, Wilmington, North Carolina. Since then, Buddy has gone from wrestling hero to fall guy. Deliberately losing hundreds of bouts in a row suitably reflects his rather crummy life and his oddball company of friends. Connelly draws this sidewise and impermanent world with a lighter-than-air hand, delineating a fragile existence shattered when a loony fan from the dark side of professional show wrestling shoots Buddy and a number of his ring cohorts. As Buddy seeks recovery, redemption, and reunion, Connelly keeps the action off-kilter. Buddy will meet his double, who tenders sound advice on more than one occasion; there will be a miracle (right out of Amal and the Night Visitors); one of Buddy’s homeless chums will discover the beauty of Svobodian utopianism; Buddy will fake amnesia in a ruse to win back his wife. The nimble prose has plenty of momentum; this is a story of winning back love, and readers will be pulling for Buddy. The plot backdrop—a Texas-sized asteroid headed toward Mother Earth—is, believe it or not, unobtrusive: Connelly’s magicalism is modest enough to register without a blink, and the apocalypse is more aura than menace, trivial in comparison to the cataclysm that is Buddy’s daily grind.
A lovely deliverance of a debut, the writing quietly sure, the course of true love meandering through its pages, as untidy as a construction site.