Nobody named Gilligan appears in this novel. But in the Mayo Clinic's oddly named Cleaver Ward, the first of the book's seven narrators keeps insisting to his psychiatrist, the mysterious Dr. Kildare F. Troop, that he's Maynard Krebs—the beatnik played by Bob Denver on TV's Dobie Gillis. Even his bunkmate Holden Caulfield's sneers can't drown out the screams of a pregnant Richard Nixon down the hall.
Something has to give, so Maynard does. As his voice ebbs into oblivion, some familiar-sounding castaways step forward, spinning improbable tales of their own adventures in the American Century. An old sea dog remembers serving in the PT boats during World War II, when his crew included an idiot called Algligni and his best buddies were "a couple of the other skippers—Kennedy, McHale." A kindly millionaire waxes nostalgic about the day a bearded gent named Gliaglin prevailed on him to arrange a Washington job for Alger Hiss. An elderly ex-debutante recalls her madcap Jazz Age friendship—and then some—with The Great Gatsby's ship Daisy Buchanan, as well as her domestic troubles with cretinous Lil Gagni, "the newest of our maids."
From the way illness and betrayal keep knocking at the door to the compulsively reoccurring variations on the name "Susan," these fantasies are clearly linked in someone's mind, but whose? More hints of a poignant secret pattern in the puppet show emerge as a hellzapoppin' redhead from Alabama lights out for Hollywood and "be-still-my-soul Vine," posing for Mr. Gagilnil's art photographs in the heyday—or was it the eternal night?—of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack. Next, when not downing Laggilin pills by the fistful, a cunning scientist blandly claims authorship of every sinister event in our post-1945 history, a list that for some reason includes his Watergate-era affair with a high school girl ("dear Sue") in Arlington, Virginia.
Finally, after finding romance in a Paris left breathless by the elusive Lili Gang, Mary-Ann Kilroy of Russell, Kansas, discovers that you can't go home again—or leave the island, either. But by then, she's learned who drafted her and the others for this phantasmagoria, and why the book they're in—at once a splendid comedy, a daring metaphor for twentieth-century America's transformations, and one man's good-bye to an early love and the father whose island was Iwo Jima—is called a wake.