"The World" literally begins with a spark: on the day he pays off his mortgage, Stuart Price, a boring, methodical, recent retiree, accidentally burns down his house. If that doesn't scream irony loudly enough, his insurance has also just expired.

After its dramatic opening, the book settles into a series of conventions. It becomes a midlife crisis novel as newly divorced, attachment free Stuart wonders what to do with the rest of his life; a road novel as he decides to drive from the West Coast to Toronto to visit Melanie, an old girlfriend suffering from cancer; and a meta-novel as he spends many pages reading out loud from a book (titled "The World"), which Melanie's father, Hal, an Alzheimer's patient, wrote years before.

Gaston has a gift for storytelling and his tripartite structure results in some interesting parallel interactions. He effectively conveys the pleasure of perceiving closely while living in the moment: Stuart wills himself to slow down on his journey, Melanie focuses on the significant moments still left to her and Hal has no choice but to perpetually inhabit the present.

However, the book-within-a-book structure never fully engages with the lives of the three main characters, leaving the book tired after the first section. Once Stuart has made it to Toronto, Gaston flounders within the 30-year-old text and retreats into the uncompelling past. The novel that admirably attempts to move in many directions ultimately loses direction altogether.

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