Skippy Dies, as you may well be aware, was my choice for the number one piece of writing of last year. The six hundred page behemoth is a complex, heartbreaking work of art. It is primarily concerned with the idea of ‘coming of age’ but what I want to explore is the idea of this happening at a multiversal level.
The novel concerns Skippy, a young boy at a Catholic boarding school who dies mysteriously in the opening prologue set in a diner. Skippy writes the name of the girl he loves in donut jam before dying in front of his best friend Ruprecht.
The story flashes back to cover the tales of how Skippy meets this girl, her ex-boyfriend and his drug dealing expansion plans (involving ADHD tablets), their teacher Howard The Coward and his attempts to have an affair with a temp Geography teacher, and Skippy’s best friend Ruprecht who is attempting to break into the multiverse.
Paul Murray uses these stories to play with the idea of parallel themes, whilst Skippy’s story on it’s own is a bittersweet love story, it’s played alongside the story of Carl, the psychotic ex-boyfriend who’s journey is the complete opposite. Likewise, the story of Howard, whos life has been, at the start of the story, fairly linear and calm, is thrown into chaos at the arrival of Miss McIntyre. When they eventually do sleep together (at a school dance) it happens alongside mass vomiting, an outbreak of rap music and hallucinagen spiked punch. Almost as though the one event, caused the other.
This is Murray’s greatest achievement with Skippy Dies, that his overall point isn’t that ‘coming of age’ is restricted to just one character, that one character can affect another, and another, and another and so on until what you are writing is a sprawling epic about the universe. It’s spelt out best towards the end, when Lori, the object of Skippy’s affections and Ruprecht talk about the theory of everything;
“Maybe instead of strings it’s stories things are made of, an infinite number of tiny vibrating stories; once upon a time they all were part of one big giant superstory, except it got broken up into a jillion different pieces, that’s why no story on its own makes any sense, and so what you have to do in a life is try and weave it back together, my story into your story, our stories into all the other people’s we know, until you’ve got something that to God or whoever might look like a letter, or even a whole word…”
Skippy Dies is available now, and I urge you to pick up a copy.