Paul is surrounded by the detritus of a life as scattered as the random thoughts he entertains in a world defined by the unexpected. Like an extended acid trip, his mind is never quiet, always gauging, sifting, considering angles and options, a cornucopia of choices in assessing the lives of his brothers: Andrew, killed in the 9/11 Pentagon crash; and Cyrus, a wealthy, manipulative lawyer who views every task as an adventure, a challenge to be conquered.
Brittle and opinionated, Cyrus makes certain demands of the unpredictable underachiever Paul. Cyrus is a man with ambitions who brooks no opposition when focused on his next endeavor - in this case political office. But ever since Paulís fiancť was shot at a Civil War reenactment, recovering slowly in a Boston hospital, Paul has been fragmented, plagued by a vague sense of guilt.
In fact, Paul has been out of sorts since a disturbing palm-reading with dire predictions. Having found Zoe, his fiancťe, under quite bizarre circumstances around the same time as the reading, Paul does not regret their serendipitous meeting, but the reading has sent him reeling. The predictions have already started to come true, and it is impossible to know if this is fate or the self-fulfilling prophecy of suggestion.
In any case, Paulís world is spinning out of control, with Zoe shot and Andrew dead on 9/11. Boston is familiar and predictable but suddenly filled with distractions and aberrations, Paul lurching through the days with his overstimulated imagination out of control - brilliant, edged with acerbic wit, but out of control nonetheless, an interior landscape replete with flashes of insight and random absurdities.
Somehow Barkan fashions a fascinating if fractious novel out of Paulís attempt to make sense of a life in thrall to the interference of fate. Or has he simply embraced the predictions of the palm reading? Ah, but it is never about the destination, only the journey, a veritable potpourri of issues that Paul considers: eco-terrorism, government deceit, global warming, the insidious nature of race in America - an existential dilemma of grand proportions.
Following the logic of Paulís erratic thoughts is reward enough, an esoteric Disney ride without a seatbelt, shocking insights and a tendency to reduce complications and expose true intentions, a healthy paranoia that questions myths while creating a remarkable interior experience. An eclectic journey through the American psyche is evidenced by this eccentric Bostonian, as the city and its residents ebb and flow, fueled by Paulís interpretation of each event.
A stranger in a strange land Ė that of his own inner landscape - the protagonist performs a savage ballet, accurately perceiving his situation, if a bit clumsy in application. The invention of a talented author, Paul is as fearless as he is crazy, a prerequisite in surviving a complicated life where nothing is as it seems and all is in constant flux. This ex-drummer and peripatetic teacher, awkward and sympathetic, is a most unusual hero, a brilliant everyman caught in an existential conundrum, an experience for the willing reader.