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AMERICAN DESERT by Percival Everett Kirkus Star

AMERICAN DESERT

By Percival Everett

Pub Date: May 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-7868-6917-8
Publisher: Hyperion

High-gloss satire and fast-paced adventure, as a guy sits up in his coffin and becomes by turns a media sensation, a devil, and a guinea pig for the military.

With his chances of tenure virtually nil and his affairs threatening his marriage, bored and self-pitying UCLA English professor Ted Street is driving to the ocean to drown himself when a traffic accident takes over, severing his head. The undertakers stitch him back together, and Ted revives at his funeral. His resurrection is a shock for everybody, but long-suffering wife Gloria handles it well, comforting their two kids and even making love to Ted, who has never felt more alive, even though he has no pulse. The no-nonsense atheist has no memories of an afterlife either, but is astute enough to realize he may have an opportunity to clean up his act and behave better to Gloria. Meanwhile, the media have besieged his house. Ted uses his newfound gift of telepathy to devastate a manipulative interviewer on camera, but he’s less fortunate at the supermarket, where he’s abducted by members of a doomsday cult. They take this “devil” straight to their leader, Big Daddy, but their cannonballs bounce right off, and Ted escapes their desert compound. Then it’s the feds’ turn to abduct poor Ted and take him to an underground reanimation lab. Excitement aside, this might have been just a series of glib assaults on a gallery of familiar all-American freaks and phonies, but veteran novelist Everett (Erasure, 2001, etc.) tempers his portraits with a compassion that also embraces Ted’s family, torn between love and revulsion. Endearingly, Ted tries to make restitution and repair his “weak moral fiber.” He selflessly rescues some kids Big Daddy has been holding hostage and then gracefully surrenders all his claims on Gloria. The ending is perfect: surprising yet inevitable.

Vital signs for this page-turner are all just fine. Especially the heart.