Book Review: Ray in Reverse by Daniel Wallace

Title: Ray in Reverse

Author: Daniel Wallace

Genre: Literary Fiction

Number of Pages: 225

Rating: B+

Recommended?: Yes

I really liked the movie Big Fish but this is my first book by Daniel Wallace. His writing is beautiful! It utilizes a bit of magical realism without going too overboard with it and I really liked the idea of the recently deceased going to a Last Words afterlife support group. I gotta say, though, if Ray goes to heaven there’s hope for (almost) all of us because Ray is douche.

Ray, the main character, dies of cancer in his 50’s and ends up in the support group with other dead people, all of whom seem reluctant to share what their actual last words are. As per the title, the story is told in reverse chronological order as it touches on pivotal moments scattered throughout Ray’s life. His wife, Jenny, and their ups and downs. His cheating. His prized button collection. His strained relationship with his son.

I think Ray was bisexual and I would have liked a little more detail on that facet of his character. I also would have liked more scenes in heaven. You go in thinking it’s going to be a major aspect and then it’s just mentioned at the beginning and the end. Ray’s viewpoint on women was… not great. There were definitely some parts that wouldn’t fly so well in a book today. Some of the scenes were weird and felt somewhat unrealistic but their strangeness was part of what made them memorable.

Some of the stories from Ray’s life, because of their vignette-like nature, could have used more explanation and detail. The chapter with the stolen baby in particular left me going ‘huh?’ It’s not always clear how things fit together thematically but the cinematic quality of the prose makes it entertaining and immersive. Even though I didn’t like Ray he was an interesting, multidimensional character who is somehow both an everyman and a deeply strange eccentric. I plan to read more of this author’s books in the future and although sometimes the story falters his wit and warm appraisal of his characters never does.

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