Twenty depressed and/or depressing strangers meander toward a bad day.
First-novelist Walker’s mostly unsympathetic characters are loosely drawn together by the common threads of direct or close involvement in suicide and commercial air travel. An unfunny comic, a morgue assistant, radio talk-show host, airline pilot, actor, writer, shrink, air-crash investigator, self-help therapist, imposter self-help therapist, ex–flight attendant, murderous street person, air-traffic controller, former government agent, dead actress, and dead father of the dead actress boldly—all of these exhibit their neuroses in hundreds of vignettes. Comic John Heron’s idea of a laugh is bombing horribly and then faking his handgun suicide before the hostile crowd. He’s no crazier than Dr. Frankburg, the self-help therapist, afraid to be alone in his own office, hiring an actor with a sexy Welsh accent to be his voice on a self-help tape. And he’s certainly no worse off than Dr. Frankburg’s daughter, who authors a stream of suicide notes to her unbelieving father. Outwardly at least, the scariest of the lot is Edward Wiltshire—“The Fireman,” a street creature with a pyromaniac background and a current interest in car bombs who sometimes gets his direction from talk radio and performs self-surgery to get a look at his own liver. This bunch of nuts—some in England, some in Manhattan, some flying between the two—expose little of what made them crazed or of the grand scheme one assumes is emerging over the course of the 840-chapter countdown. Numbered in descending order, the format falsely suggests building momentum and a rewarding conclusion. Some of the “chapters” are blank, nothing but the chapter number; many are no more than a few words. With virtually no distinction in voice from one character to the next, be it Manhattan taxi driver or Scandinavian airline pilot, it’s tough to know which neurotic is babbling when. What is<\I> conveyed clearly is across-the-board desperation.
A relentlessly grim trudge through uninteresting territory, with scant reward for the considerable effort.