Bill Durmer is in over his head. Staring headlong at 40, having lost his family business and blaming himself for the impending demise of his hometown, he finds himself bunkered in a darkened hotel room, surrounded by the Mickey-eared commandos of the Walt Disney World S.W.A.T. team. This is not how he expected to spend his summer vacation.
In a genre mash-up of fantasy, Southern lit and mystery from first-time novelist Wayne Franklin, Midlife Mouse follows under-achieving genius Bill Durmer on an absurd adventure through American pop culture. The simple life of running his family’s electronics store (a life for which he had given up a promising tech career) comes crashing down in one fateful day for his idyllic coastal hometown of Decent Chance, Alabama.
Sleep-deprived and depressed, Bill experiences a hyper-caffeinated epiphany while watching a constant loop of Beauty and the Beast: he wants to be “the baker with his tray like always.” After a lifetime of being told he was destined for greatness only to find his life squarely in the middle of the road of mediocrity, Bill gives up. He wants to be a simple character living in the background of a fantasy world. In the mother of all midlife crises, he does what any formerly levelheaded, upstanding father of three would do: he runs away to Walt Disney World … and he takes his nine-year-old daughter, Cleary, with him.
At the Most Magical Place on Earth, Bill finds himself doing anything but blending into the background. An eccentric elderly couple carrying a “towel baby,” costumed characters with a penchant for kidnap, a retro spaceman, ghosts, pirates, Imagineers and suburban housewives battle for Bill’s allegiance in a prophecy-driven turf war that promises to alter his destiny. With the aid of a mysterious bus-driving mentor, Bill navigates the strange and twisty waters of Disney fandom. Opposing him, however, are unseen foes known to Bill only as The Powers. Their efforts to prevent Bill from fulfilling the prophecy know no bounds. Then there’s the little matter of that S.W.A.T. team.
Compounding matters even more is the overbearing presence of his sister, Nancy, a classist Southern Belle to the manner born. Bill’s every move is made in the shadow of a long and storied family history in Decent Chance — a legacy literally blackened in the wake of Bill’s leaving town — and in the even longer shadow of his sister’s disapproval. In the end, Bill must choose whether to accept his prophetic destiny, return home to save Decent Chance or pursue his ill-conceived dream of simply fading into the background.
Through a quirky, but absurdly real, cast of characters and a fantastic series of events, Midlife Mouse holds a satirical mirror up to modern American life, offering a story about midlife crisis, the search for meaning, the changing nature of fandom and the mandate to use one’s gifts no matter the outcome. At its heart is a complex portrait of a simple family struggling with the pressures of their modern, Southern middle-class life.
Oh, and there’s a mouse in there, too.