While working to restore an historic theatre in a seedy part of the city, a graduate student named Anthea searches to find her best friend, lost to the rhetoric of an itinerant street mystic. Almost a century earlier, Liam, a tenth-rate tenor, visits the same theatre while eking out a career on the dying Vaudeville circuits of the day. In both eras, an apocalyptic strain of mysticism threatens their existence: Anthea contends with a nascent New Age movement in the heart of the city while Liam encounters a radical theosophical commune along the coast of British Columbia, who appear to be building something.
The Paradise Engine unfolds across a colourful backdrop of labour organizers, immaculately-attired cultists, ambitious socialites, basement offices and coffee shops. Its cast of characters and historical setting recalls Robertson Davies' Fifth Business or Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, while its approach to memory and community is reminiscent of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.