First off, the title of Skippy Dies should come with a spoiler alert, because Skippy does in fact die. And oh, the humanity! He dies like a fish on the floor of Ed’s Doughnut House, where he’s been locked in a doughnut-eating contest with his tubby, brilliant, but unhinged prep-school buddy Ruprecht. The contest is so ferocious that, at first, Ruprecht just keeps eating. But soon he’s watching helplessly as Skippy tries to scrawl a final message to the world. It’s an improbable message of love, and Skippy writes it on the floor with raspberry guck that he’s squeezed out of a jelly-filled. Then his life is over. Fortunately, Paul Murray’s novel — which comes on all boisterous and funny but soon proves sneakily poignant and wise — is just getting started.
Murray’s Irish tragicomedy has far too big and eccentric a cast to do justice to here. (It takes Murray himself 672 pages.) Essentially, though, the novel’s about a fusty old Catholic school trying to cope and connive after the Skippy Doughnut Tragedy, while dealing with the more commonplace tragedy that being an adolescent sucks, as do being middle-aged and being old. Murray’s humor and inventiveness never flag. And despite a serious theme — what happens to boys and men when they realize the world isn’t the sparkly planetarium they had hoped for — Skippy Dies leaves you feeling hopeful and hungry for life. Just not for doughnuts. A