By Wehttam Tropapar
In September 2022, the anticipated Foreign Agent the Last Chapter arrived on the scene! Sequels are often formulaic and dull compared to first books, but this one is an exception to the rule. By comparison, the original Foreign Agent becomes a prequel –albeit a necessary one. Foreign Agent the Last Chapter is the real story; a masterwork of surreal, absurdist fiction!
I asked Mr. Rapaport how this chef-d’oeuvre came about. I quote his reply in full.
“I hadn’t envisioned any sequel to Foreign Agent, but besides geopolitics, there were two other broad topics I’d always wanted to get into a novel, and for which there was no room in Foreign Agent: religion, specifically the religion of The Urantia Book, and an unusual (I think) take on an alien invasion of Earth.
About four months after the publication of Foreign Agent, while taking a shower (these ideas always seem to hit me in the shower), it suddenly occurred to me that a line in the last chapter of Foreign Agent [Chapter 20 ed], the 1976 crash of an alien ship in Xinjiang (leading twenty years later to the Chinese genetic experiments), along with the fact that the narrator of Foreign Agent is never told, despite his asking several times, exactly why his geopolitical opinions were so valuable to the Chinese, could be the two keys to a new novel.
There remained several problems. How to merge these ideas with all the sex, and how to get the aliens to Earth in a reasonable time. The Urantia Book is not anti-sex, even sex for fun. It is, however, anti-obsession of any kind, including sex, and no one is more obsessed with sex than the novel’s narrator. One of the essays on my blog, Prolegomena to a Future Theology, in which I describe the three pillars of reality, provided the key to solving both problems. Of course, the solution is ridiculous, even absurd from a Urantia Book viewpoint, but other ridiculous ideas have been linked to that book by others so I don’t feel too bad about it.
When I stepped out of that shower, I had the basic idea for the first half of the novel, the buildup to the scene where all the main characters come together. Beyond that, I had no idea what I would do, but I started writing anyway. When I reached that middle, chapter 11, I knew what the end had to be, but still not how to get there. Chapter 12 followed naturally from 11. In chapter 13, I put six words into the mouth of one of my characters (no spoilers). When she spoke those words, I knew how the chasm would be bridged. The rest is history.”
Bearing in mind what Mr. Rapaport says above, there is a shift in the story exactly where he indicates. Chapters 1 through 11 proceed naturally. Beginning in chapter 12, the story becomes a bit unfocused and soon splits into three separate threads. Besides the main line involving the alien invasion (I hope that is not a spoiler, Mr. Rapaport mentions it above), two subthreads appear. Both begin naturally enough rooted in the main thread but end up having little to do with it or with one another except that the narrator must repeatedly traverse all three as the story, memoir-style, moves forward in time. Little is not nothing, however. The effect of each thread on the others is felt through their effect on the narrator, and Mr. Rapaport deftly uses this part of the book to expand on the subject of sex and drugs, in particular opium, introduced in Foreign Agent.
Yet while these chapters are not wasted, indeed they are the novel’s most literary, there is one rather long section, I’ll call it an infrastructure description, that takes up a few pages but ends up not being used anywhere else. I asked Mr. Rapaport about this and he told me those passages begin elevating the significance of two minor characters first introduced in Foreign Agent. He admits he might have done a better (read shorter) job with that section.
I’m not going to do a chapter-by-chapter review as I did with Foreign Agent. That book was a flat story, a single exciting thread from beginning to end. Foreign Agent the Last Chapter is more textured. Even the first eleven chapters describe multiple events occurring in parallel.
This novel, like Foreign Agent, ends with two epilogs, one by Mr. Rapaport and another by two new characters who are instrumental in the main thread. As in the former book, Mr. Rapaport tells me these epilogs are analogous to the photographs displayed at the end of the two movies “Hangover” (2009) and “Hangover 2” (2011). Their purpose is not so much to add comedy, though they are funny, rather to re-highlight comedy already encountered.
I dare not, however, close this review without mentioning the novel’s seminal contribution to literature. Throughout the book, beginning in chapter 1 and in many, though not all, subsequent chapters, Matthew Rapaport himself is discussed in third-person by the narrator and other characters! In short sections of two chapters, Mr. Rapaport speaks to the narrator in the form of replies to emails! Both of these little sections serve to enhance the contrast between Mr. Rapaport’s ideas and what the narrator experiences. There are, Mr. Rapaport keeps reminding me, “no rules in the novel.” I know of no other novelist who embeds him or herself into the novel in this way. In my humble opinion, some significant literary prize, perhaps a Pulitzer, is due Mr. Rapaport for this innovation.
In Foreign Agent the Last Chapter, Mr. Rapaport promised us a more complex and more ridiculous story, exceeding even the absurd limits of Foreign Agent. He has succeeded beyond my expectations on both counts!