College student Jake undergoes a near-death experience after a local bully drugs his drink. In his subsequent dream, a man named Oswaldo arrives on a “magic-carpet-like platform” to whisk Jake away to purgatory, where none other than Benjamin Franklin is waiting to show him around. McInerney’s overly complex metaphysical netherworld includes guardian angels, who access humans through a “Limbic Highway” to their brains. It turns out that the souls in purgatory, Franklin included, have big plans for Jake in their quest to defeat evil. They plan to use a Mobile Cleansing Unit, or M-C-U (one of the novel’s many acronyms), to eradicate dreaded “evil bulges,” which “evil barbs” create in people’s minds. Franklin shows Jake the ropes on how to destroy the bulges; in future dreams, Jake returns to help the cause, entering his neighbors’ dreams in Magic School Bus–like adventures to clean evil from their neural pools. When Jake isn’t going after evil, however, he lives a sheltered life—one so uneventful that McInerney manages to find space in this short novel for Jake to comment on the weather: “If it is one thing I cannot handle, it’s humidity. There is no solution when you’re in it, except to get out of it.” The novel offers an intriguing take on the afterlife that has potential. However, it suffers from a lack of conflict; it only takes a bit of extra firepower to dispatch the evil bulges, for example, and few characters are developed enough to contain conflicts beyond their supposed moral failings. A teenage girl named Tina, for example, is said to have been “snowed over by her family so often, that she ignores the ramifications of an unplanned pregnancy, and believes that premarital sex is acceptable.” Few passages in the book allow readers to make their own judgments about the characters’ actions, and even fewer attempt to explain its strange mythology.
A compelling idea for a novel that suffers from bizarre worldbuilding, a slight plot and underdeveloped characters.