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Everyone Says That at the End of the World

It's wacky and wise, this apocalyptic riot

Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., April 5, 2013

Everyone Says That at the End of the World

Everyone Says That at the End of the World

Soft Skull Press, 336 pp., $15.95 (paper)

Out of all the possible Owen Egertons in all the possible worlds, this particular Egerton has written a novel, his second to be published by Soft Skull Press, that presents the earthly apocalypse via a motley cast of characters who spend almost as much time wrestling with questions of identity and life's meaning as they do making soup, being Hollywood stars, riding bikes, starting bands, and enjoying – oh, really enjoying – sex. So it should come as little surprise that much of the story is set in, and is a kind of extended mash note to, Austin, Texas.

Not unexpected, too, is a sort of ongoing wrestling match with God; the author puts his people and his story through heaven and hell in the way that only this Egerton, with his personal history of deep but disgruntled involvement with modern Christianity, could so enjoyably do. But this is no Greco-Roman, Olympic-style spiritual wrestling here: This is full-on WWE-style wrestling, if such already-goofy spectacle were directed by Benny Hill and script-doctored by Tom Robbins, where you nonetheless recall that the choreographed and costumed leviathans rumbling the mat are doing real physical work and can injure themselves quite seriously.

Note: Egerton's book, for all its weirdness and philosophical tropes, is based in more concrete terms than the above metaphor; the man's an occasional scriptwriter for Hollywood and knows well how to anchor his flights of fancy in the here-and-now.

Everyone Says That at the End of the World tells the story of Milton, whose defrocked physicist father commits suicide to prove a quantum point; of Rica, soupstress extraordinaire, pregnant with her and Milton's child; of Hayden Brock, self-obsessed star of the kitschy TV series Saint Rick; of a hermit crab – seriously, a goddamn hermit crab – named Click, who functions as a sort of crustacean messiah; and of a crowd of other characters that are weird and holy and very much human. Earth, it seems, is a sort of lunatic asylum tended to by dimension-hopping floaters who've decided to shut the place down. Earth is also, of course, just one planet in the universe that will simultaneously be devastated by the gamma-ray burst from an exploding star 7,000 light years away. This novel of Egerton's puts his characters there, in Austin and Marfa and beyond, and follows them as they deal with the physical collapse of all that they've known. It's wacky and wise, this narrative; it's a fucking apocalyptic riot, attended by aliens and angels, shot through with sparks of loving kindness and really good salsa.

A Less-Extended Mash Note to Austin, Texas, by Owen Egerton

"Austin, where art is play. Where thoughts bubble and burst against each other. Where money is a side product and not the aim. Where my children know by first name the singers of their favorite songs, the painters of the art on their walls, the stories in the papers, the clowns on stage, the writers of the books on the shelves. Some cities claim to have gods walking in their midst – you can see them pass in limos or walking from their high hill house. They must be gods because they're so hard to touch. Not here. No God hidden in the hills. We are a city of gods – a population of the divine. We are Creators and Partakers and Joy Makers and I love this town."

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