Ray Seymour, a dejected shoe factory supervisor, dreads coming home to “an assault of sounds” – a loud television, video game sound effects, and yelling from the kitchen – made by his wife Vicky and his two children Eddie and Emily. Eddie, his sullen teenager, has just moved in to get away from his despondent mother, Ray’s first wife Dianne.
Having been confronted with his mortality due to X-rays his doctor ordered just to get “a better look at something,” Ray longs for a more profound relationship with his video game-addicted son and with life in general. Mortality comes sooner than he – or the reader expects it – when he confuses the symptoms of a heart attack with choking on a fish bone at dinner and dies on the kitchen floor in the very first chapter.
In Thanksgiving Eve, San Antonio attorney Jay Brandon’s newest novel, Ray is granted a widespread wish – to be able to turn back the clock and “do over” certain moments in life. After each of his deaths – yes, there are multiple – he is delivered to past events: the spring of his 10th year on earth, Eddie’s first day of school, and last week’s trip to North Star Mall with Eddie and Emily. Ray’s returns to the past are not superficial fixes; instead, he is on a constant search for the profound. He is “spinning philosophy while everyone else (does) busywork.”
Though the novel is reminiscent of holiday parables like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Ray is neither merely observing the past with a spirit guide, nor shown a life without his existence. Instead, he is allowed to re-experience his past, causing him to question the validity of his memories.
His father, whom he remembers as stoic and unfeeling, may have been much more involved than Ray remembers. If so, Ray’s memory does him a disservice. His mother scoffs when Ray suggests his father lacked parenting skills and says he was the best parent he could have been “before ‘parent’ was a verb … when it was just a noun.”
What makes Ray the modern-day everyman is his struggle with technology’s hold on life. Eddie’s obsession with video games and Emily’s connection to television shows are obstacles in his desire to create emotional ties.
During his redos, he finds the convenience of the microwave insufficient and longs for the aroma of traditionally prepared meals with his family. He inspires his family to abandon the car and walk when they encounter traffic on the way to see the holiday lights in Windcrest.
Concerned about his children becoming well-rounded adults, especially at the risk of leaving them due to another of his deaths, Ray enlists the help of Eddie and Emily in helping a homeless man. Only time will tell if it will be a profound experience.
In this time stream of “dayovers,” as Brandon labels them, Ray is often amazed by the possible transformations he can effect on his family’s future. He comes to understand that “no moment was more valuable than any other; some just had longer consequences.
“You can’t fix your family in one Thanksgiving week. Maybe it has to be every Thanksgiving.”