Poltergeists and country music converge in Hager’s surreal debut novel.
Willard is 12 years old, overweight, and doesn’t do very much with his life. His parents are obsessed with NASCAR and pay little attention to him. One day, he begins to type at his laptop and suddenly finds that he’s channeling the spirit of a recently murdered country singer named Jared Whaley. Soon, other people in Willard’s tiny town of Wilson, Tennessee, are wondering whether the boy is really communing with the dead or if the whole thing is just a hoax. Harvey Boyd, an uncharismatic radio host for WTOR, “Wilson Tennessee’s Only Radio,” decides to investigate the case, and his coverage quickly wins global attention. The town is turned upside down as locals try to make sense of the supernatural event—and also try to figure out who shot Jared Whaley through the head. Although much of Hager’s novel comes off as an extended redneck joke, it’s surprisingly funny, and his prose is filled with wit, double-entendres, and social commentary. He lovingly creates his Tennessee town from the bar to the barbershop, and his plot gleefully pokes fun at deadbeat parents, lowbrow pastimes, and sexism and homophobia in small-town America. As Hager notes in his epilogue, many of the events in Whaley’s life are culled from the author’s own, giving this absurd tale an autobiographical twist. Along the way, Hager valuably describes the music industry and its abusive relationship with artists, as well as the bleak origins of many country singers. Although the novel’s final courtroom scene drags on too long, its finale is a genuine shocker, and readers will find its twist deeply satisfying. In the end, Hager pulls off a rare feat: his flawed characters are often selfish and abrasive, yet it’s fun to read about every one of them.
An imaginative ensemble comedy for readers with twisted senses of humor.