The Shoe on the Roof
By Will Ferguson
Published October 17, 2017 by Simon and Schuster
384 pages (hardcover)
“From the Giller Prize–winning novelist of 419 comes the startling, funny, and heartbreaking story of a psychological experiment gone wrong.
Ever since his girlfriend ended their relationship, Thomas Rosanoff’s life has been on a downward spiral. A gifted med student, he has spent his entire adulthood struggling to escape the legacy of his father, an esteemed psychiatrist who used him as a test subject when he was a boy. Thomas lived his entire young life as the “Boy in the Box,” watched by researchers behind two-way glass.
But now the tables have turned. Thomas is the researcher, and his subjects are three homeless men, all of whom claim to be messiahs—but no three people can be the one and only saviour of the world. Thomas is determined to “cure” the three men of their delusions, and in so doing save his career—and maybe even his love life. But when Thomas’s father intervenes in the experiment, events spin out of control, and Thomas must confront the voices he hears in the labyrinth of his own mind.”
The Shoe on the Roof
A woman dies on the operating table. The doctors refuse to give up on her. After they miraculously bring her back to life she says she floated about them all, floated up to the roof of the hospital. The doctors explain how that feeling is caused neurologically. She tells them she saw a shoe on the roof. They sent a janitor up there who finds the shoe she had described.
The Shoe on the Roof has an extremely unique plot. The idea that belief in God can be caused neurologically is certainly provocative. When I read the book blurb about how this story is about a failed psychological experiment I was worried it would be a “heavy” read with lots of difficult words and medical jargon. That is not the case at all. The scientific terms are not difficult to understand. Other reviewers have said there were many times that they laughed out loud, and although I didn’t find it funny enough to actually laugh out loud, it is a fun, quick read.
Each character had a distinct voice and personality. One of the mentally ill men who calls himself the magician is my favourite character by far. I would read an entire book about his life story. There are lots of interesting medical information and thought-provoking ideas about the relation between mental health and religion.
There are some interesting comparisons between this story and Christianity. The Shoe on the Roof highlights father/son relationships: Thomas and his father, Jesus Christ and his father. Thomas is trying to cure three men who believe they are the Messiah, which made me think of the three wise men. Thomas’s godmother Frances is a wonderful woman who helps the injured and sick homeless people – probably inspired by Saint Frances of Rome, a nun who served in hospitals and even established a homeless shelter at one point in her life.
There is a big twist at the end that I DID NOT SEE coming. I often guess the big twist when reading mysteries and thrillers, so I’m always impressed when an author manages to make my jaw drop.
I did not start liking the main character, Thomas, until around 3/4 of the way through the book. At the beginning of the story he is a sexist, arrogant, a-hole. I did not understand his motivations which made me not care about if he was able to win back his ex-girlfriend. Actually, I don’t even like the ex-girlfriend either to be honest. Thankfully, Thomas achieves a crap-load of personal growth, and by the last 50 pages I found myself finally caring about him. I would have quit reading it before the 100 page mark if it wasn’t an ARC. I am glad I did finish it, because this ended up being a pretty good read for me.
I don’t understand why there was a murder mystery sub plot about homeless people being murdered. That could have been left out of the story completely and wouldn’t have changed the main plot in any way. Actually…you could also cut out the Thomas/Amy storyline as well. It would have created more room to give us more background information, especially about the three mentally ill men.
If you’re a fan of mysteries and like science/psychology I think you’ll dig this book.
I received an advanced copy in exchange for my honest, unbiased opinion. Thank you to the publisher, author, and NetGalley, for allowing me to review.
About the Author
Will Ferguson is an award-winning travel writer and novelist. His last work of fiction, 419, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. He has won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour a record-tying three times and has been nominated for both the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. His new novel, The Shoe on the Roof, will be released October 17, 2017. Visit him at WillFerguson.ca