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