Ray in Reverse

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The most striking thing about Daniel Wallace’s Ray in Reverse is the technique of telling a story in reverse. It is rather like Orson Welles’s movie Citizen Kane (1941) in the way it handles time, and a “Rosebud” is revealed at the end. What Ray wanted all his life was a 1909 VDB-S Lincoln head penny his grandfather promised to bequeath him. In “Fall 1961, Inheritance,” Ray steals that penny from his grandfather’s coffin at the funeral home but subsequently loses it.

The chapters resemble the stories of Raymond Carver, dealing with trivial domestic incidents that loom large in mundane lives, including drinking, quarreling, making love, getting married, getting divorced, and working at dead-end jobs. Wallace’s characters, like Carver’s, meet life’s blows with the indomitable humor characteristic of working people. The protagonist’s name will remind readers of Ray Carver, who also died of cancer at fifty.

Many chapters originally appeared in such prestigious literary magazines as Glimmer Train, The Yale Review, Shenandoah, Triquarterly, Carolina Quarterly, and Story, proving that Wallace is an author worth watching. He has forged a collection of autobiographical stories into a modular novel with the framing device of beginning and ending in heaven, where souls gather for group therapy to confess their sins and try to make sense of their mortal lives.