Ray Williams is dead. In heaven, luckily for him, he is a member of the prestigious Last Words group. It seems heaven is jam-packed with self-help groups to help the dead come to terms with their demise and the life that led up to it. Ray's last words weren't all that spectacular, really. They weren't even a full sentence. Then again, Ray didn't lead all that spectacular of a life either.
Told in reverse, Ray's largely unremarkable life unfolds in a series of brief snippets. Each chapter a memorable moment in the life of a man whose last words were "I wish. . . " Ray has not been a model husband, nor has he been a model human being. Unflinchingly honest, Ray in Reverse achieves a poignancy in the moral decrepitude of its main character. Of course, the whole book is built around the question, "Just what does this bastard wish for on his deathbed?" so the good aspects of Ray's character are conspicuously absent. Who, honestly, on his deathbed – or soon afterward as the case may be – would really look back without regret or shame? I, for one, don't expect I will be able to.
Ray in Reverse comes from the same author that brought us Big Fish, "the movie version of which":http://www.crowndozen.com/features/archives/000195.shtml you're probably familiar with, and its protagonist is almost like the Edward Bloom from the evil universe (goatee optional). Where Big Fish's Edward Bloom excels in everything he attempts, Ray in Reverse's Ray Williams consistently finds new manners in which to fail in his endeavors. He cheats on his wife, gets drunk in his son's treehouse, runs over a dog, cheats on his wife again, and steals from his grandfather. Hmm. . . should I have turned that sentence around?
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