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Ray in Reverse by Daniel Wallace

Ray in Reverse

by Daniel Wallace

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The story of a life told in reverse. The book starts in Heaven where Ray finds himself in the group "Last Words". Good read but I did find the story working backwards a tad confusing at times. However, it tied up nicely at the end. ( )
  micahmom2002 | Jan 25, 2016 |
The story of a life told in reverse. The book starts in Heaven where Ray finds himself in the group "Last Words". Good read but I did find the story working backwards a tad confusing at times. However, it tied up nicely at the end. ( )
  micahmom2002 | Jan 25, 2016 |
Most of you probably remember Daniel Wallace as the author of Big Fish, which was eventually turned into a fantastic movie staring Ewan McGregor. Fans of Big Fish will likely get the same sense of enjoyment from Ray in Reverse. I found this book on a bargain shelf at Books-a-Million and decided to read it. You'll see why I'm glad I did.

Ray in Reverse is a downright strange narrative with a unique and stunning conclusion. Ray Williams is dead and in heaven, where support groups collect people together to discuss various aspects of their lives. But Ray is in the Last Words group, where everyone is discussing the last things they said before death, and embarrassment is setting in: Ray's last words weren't all that interesting, let alone complete. What follows is a chronologically reversed narrative about Ray's life, starting from old age and taking leaps further and further back in time to his childhood, before finally returning back to Heaven. We learn about his triumphs and failures, his wants and desires, and, most of all, the kind of man he came to be through all the trials and tribulations of life.

Daniel Wallace has a pension for telling strange and engaging stories. I only saw the movie for Big Fish, but much of the magic and wonder that made that movie shine is also at work in Ray in Reverse. While the narrative does leave many questions open to speculation, the way Wallace has tried to capture the essence of a man, rather than the brilliance of a plot, is something worth noting. The narrative cannot possibly capture every moment in Ray's life to put together some sort of cohesive plot, but it can look into what makes Ray tick, and does so to great effect. We see Ray's life in glimpses in much the same way that we remember the most vivid moments of our pasts in glimpses. Certain memories stick out for us--just as they do for Ray--and when you put them all together they paint a unique picture of you. Ray's backwards motion glimpses do just that, and, by the end, we start to understand who he is, especially in terms of his faults. We also come to understand why the beginning of the novel is so prescient: Ray is the everyman looking back upon himself and wondering, "Who am I?"

Ray as everyman is a key thing to note about the novel. He's not perfect--not by a long shot. Ray cheats, thinks ill of other people, and succeeds and fails in much the same way that all of us do. Wallace doesn't pull punches for Ray, because to do so would take away from Ray's tragic, yet painfully average life. Flawed characters are strong characters. I think this is part of what makes the novel so enjoyable to read, because it takes what is so normal and everyday and makes it glamorous in its normality and flaws, for good or for bad. Wallace has a knack for doing just that, because even Big Fish has that kind of normality-turned-to-glamorous feel.

Wallace's adept storytelling, however, makes difficult for me to find fault with this novel. On the one hand, I loved the way the narrative was pieced together with glimpses; on the other hand, the glimpses also left a few too many holes for my liking, leaving me with a lot of questions at the end. But, at the same time, those questions are part of how the ending comes together, because even Ray is questioning his life. It's a Catch 22 for a reader, I suppose. Regardless, perhaps a few more glimpses could have made for a more rounded picture, but only if doing so wouldn't detract from the ending.

Needless to say, I loved Ray in Reverse. Ray is memorable, the structure of the narrative and the two Heaven scenes framing it make for a fascinating and engaging read, and the everyman has, finally, a little magic attached to the title. Hopefully we'll see more of Wallace in the future. For now, we have Big Fish and Ray in Reverse (and, apparently, a couple other novels I've never heard of before). ( )
  Arconna | Mar 9, 2010 |
I really didn't like this book, it sounded good at first but towards the end it just dragged. ( )
  Cailin | Nov 30, 2009 |
In the Last Words group in Heaven, Ray Williams—dead from cancer at the too-young age of fifty—relives small vignettes from his life, one per chapter, in reverse chronological order. The result, along with Daniel Wallace being a brilliant observer and incredibly intelligent with his choice of details to write about, is a poignant and sweet story about an Everyman and the ups and downs of his life.

I enjoyed this book in small bits, not as an entity: it is better read as a collection of short stories, and would only hurt your brain if you try to think of how it works (or whether it works) as a novel. As I said, Wallace’s skill lies in the details and the way he so easily makes minor characters come to life. Not a bad choice for nostalgic nights in front of the fireplace. ( )
  stephxsu | Mar 3, 2009 |
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Ray, like the rest of us here, is dead.
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Book description
Ray relives the most prominent episodes of his life in reverse order, starting with his fatal cancer and working his way back
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0142000094, Paperback)

Ray in Reverse is such an exceptionally winning novel from start to finish (or would that be finish to start?) that one can almost forgive its opening chapter. The shtick: Ray's in heaven, and he's joined a group called Last Words, where the members... well, you guessed it, rehash the last things they said on Earth. As it turns out, the dead make for fierce critics, and when they criticize his offering (the incomplete phrase "I wish--"), Ray storms out in a huff.

Not so funny, actually, but what follows is--funny, as well as heartbreaking and all too real. From the second chapter onward, Ray relives the most prominent episodes of his life in reverse order, starting with his fatal cancer and working his way back. Here is Ray losing hair, growing wings, and trying to make his final amends; Ray building his son a tree house and getting drunk there every night; Ray with amnesia; Ray stealing the good-luck penny from his dead grandfather's pocket. The book ends with Ray's last act of true innocence, at age 10: "He was simply doing the right thing, and doing the right thing came to him as naturally as breathing. How could he have known that this was a talent that would be lost over time?"

Ray's is an ordinary life, with an ordinary mixture of good intentions and bad judgment, but it's also one in which extraordinary things happen. In Big Fish, his first novel, Daniel Wallace proved himself a master at mapping precisely the point where the mythic and the quotidian meet. With its gentle humor and pitch-perfect prose, Ray in Reverse is exactly the right kind of fairy tale for our unmagical times. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:33 -0400)

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