In short, Toes is a Walter Mitty story — a shaggy-dog tale about a man whose wild daydreams are at once a coping strategy and a revelation of his character ... Once you’ve delivered the requisite jokes about tests, toilet paper and masks (can you keep it on when getting your passport photo taken?), the well starts to run fairly dry ... So Toes winds up becoming a novel about a lot of things, as the hero’s busy mind ponders etymology, pandemic reading (Proust, specifically) and cancel culture, none of which make for especially juicy targets for humor ... Buckley takes a crack at the controversy over Confederate statues, poking fun at a group called the Oaf Keepers, but the plotline is as simplistic as the pun. This particular shaggy-dog story gets very shaggy, and at times it’s not clear whether Buckley himself knows where he wants the narrative to go ... The novel hangs together best — and is at its funniest — when Buckley sticks with the preposterous screenplay that our hero is laboring on, his vehicle for facing his fear of death.
The writing is lively and funny, as Buckley finds the ridiculous in much of the ordinary aspects of life, during a pandemic or not ... The narrator’s creative process is fun to watch in itself. His other mental wanderings—and there are many—are equally diverting ... Buckley is very funny about the modern tendency to live in our screens. He has found all the bubbles that need bursting in our current preoccupations. If you’re ready to laugh at pandemic absurdities, this is the book for you.