Ray in Reverse

ISBN: 0142000094
ISBN 13: 9780142000090
By: Daniel Wallace

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About this book

Sitting in the Last Words support group in Heaven, Ray Williams ruminates on his short life of 50 years, his episodes of infidelity, his premature marriage proposal, his sexual confusion, the dog he accidentally killed, and the baby he unwittingly saved.

Reader's Thoughts


My absolute favorite of all time. It's so sentimental. I knew I would love it after the first sentence.


I love Daniel Wallace's writing and some of his sentences are truly wonderful. But I like some of his other work much more than I did this book. Even as it intended to be told in backward episodes (beginning with Ray in a very curious vision of heaven) it was a little too disjointed for me. I did like the ending and the way it helped knit some of the pieces together.

Shaun Duke

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).

Ron Fitzwater

Simply love this book


Interesting book -- glad I read it but not the best thing I've ever read either. I enjoyed the part of the book when he was younger the best.


you start out not liking the guy, think, "ok, we're going backwards here... maybe I'll learn something to make me like him a little more, and then you wait. and wait. and turns out theres nothing to like. just a man and his button collection.


In this book, absolutely nothing happens, which is kind of the point. Ray is dead, and in his afterlife support group he ends up reliving his entire life in order to determine the meaning of his last words ("I wish..."). Overall, it's an interesting read despite the gimmicky writing style.

Theresa Maher

Disappointing. Wallace's storytelling ability supercedes many, but this time he failed to connect the central character to the reader. I understand that Ray is the average nobody, but he is just too much of a nobody for me to care about. A neat premise, but a missed attempt.

Kristina Jo

I bought this at a library resale because the idea of going backwards intrigued me. Unfortunately, I think this is a cooler idea in theory than in practice. I always felt like there was some kind of back-story that I wasn't getting, some history I wasn't understanding about the characters. Maybe it was intentional, maybe it was just impractical to include the back-story when we might get the back-story as we go, y'know... backwards. In general, I spent the time I was reading this book feeling irritated. I didn't especially like Ray, either, which just made it the whole thing harder to get through. I think Wallace was trying to say something with what Ray wished for as opposed to what he could have wished for, but it took so long to get to that point that I was too busy counting down the pages to really get the message.


Not one of the more exciting books ive read (not that it was meant to be).


I enjoyed this story much more than I expected given so many questionable reviews. That should teach me something about reading too many reviews!Agreed, not as good a story or as strong a character as Big Fish, but that's a tough comparison. This book worked for me on a different level. I thought the first and last chapters were fantastics bookends for the story and the organizational structure - very creative! Without giving any spoilers, the last chapter was great - very poignant - given what came before. Don't discount this book; it's a short, simple and enjoyable read - give it a try.

Melissa Lee-tammeus

I picked up this book at a library sale for the sole purpose that the author penned Big Fish as well, which I dearly loved (especially the movie adaptation). This had the same quality - a bit surreal, a bit make-you-think, a bit case study, development progress type thingy. I expected a big moment where it all came together for me and I am ashamed to say, it didn't. The book is tiny snippets of a man's life going in reverse. Some were incredibly riveting and others I kept trying to figure out the meaning behind it and how it tied into the others, and I was at a loss. I know Wallace had something huge to say, and I did not know what it was! Frustrating. I kind of hope this is made into a movie and the producers fill in the gaps for the dense ones, such as I, who just didn't quite get what the heck this book was trying to say. A beautiful, well written book - I love the way this author uses words - but either I missed the boat on this one, or the book itself did. Who's to say?


I expected more, honestly. Big Fish is so creative and whimsical, and since this story is told in reverse I thought there'd be some payoff in that method, but I'm not sure there was. It's pretty good, but a bit disappointing.


In Heaven, Ray Williams joins the Last Words group. But instead of peacefully listening and sharing his last words with the group, Ray has an outburst and flees the group. Now we learn about Ray's life through a series of vignettes, starting at the end and down through childhood.What a huge disappointment this was. I didn't read any Daniel Wallace before, but I did see the movie of "Big Fish" and vaguely remember it as fantastical and delightful and this book was neither of those things. Ray is a pretty uninteresting character. I mean, the concept here was so unique and this just fell totally flat. When I think back on it, it doesn't even really feel like much of a story. One of the rare books where I feel like I wasted my time.

Cordelia Becker

well written... and the book is sort of growing on me at first I didn't like it at all -- and I was thinking how does something like this get published - it's not really a novel its more like a writing excercise .. One reason I started not liking it -- actually getting bored was that the main character is sort of a cad - but then he becomes a kid - not so bad for a kid and he has all these rather strange experiences - and I'm thinking that is what life is like it is the same, the same, the same puncutated with unusual or weird or quirky memorable experiences. I've found myself wondering who the narrator was and why I care what he thinks of Ray. At the end I happy to see that the narrator concludes that Ray is not the dullard he thought him to be. I'm thinking that the worst thing for us people to feel is as though we are not unique.

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