Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: The American Book of the Dead ~ by Henry Baum

american book of the dead

Review by John for The American Book of the Dead ~ by Henry Baum

An odd time-bending story about a man-made apocalypse (that may or may not have happened) and the start of the next stage in the evolution of the human race; with a failed writer both predicting and chronicling the earth-shattering events.

About:   It is the year 2020 and Eugene Myers is a struggling writer – struggling to write something meaningful, struggling to be successful, struggling to keep his failing marriage together, and struggling to deal with the discovery of an online pornographic video that features his 18 year old daughter. Meanwhile he starts to have explicit dreams about a variety of strangers and gathers a list of names and addresses that he is convinced are real. He starts to seek them out and is stunned to find out that each of his dreamed-about characters is indeed a real person. Could it be that aspects of the novel he is currently working on are real as well? His evolving dreams suggest that they are - which is worrying; the novel is about the apocalyptic destruction of the world, driven by a demented US president.

In the real world, events are rapidly going from bad to worse. Violence and pornography are endemic, terrorism and international strife have become facts of life, the world’s climate is being destroyed, and politicians have appeared powerless to improve things. Now, however, the recently elected US president is a religious zealot who promises to change everything; he is directed and backed by his father, an all-powerful diplomat who secretly claims that UFOs and aliens are real and who says that the world’s deterioration is all part of a grand plan. Apocalypse will be followed by a rebirth.

Via his dreams, Myers sees behind the scenes and knows what is happening and why; he has a growing network of followers that are connected by dreams but he appears powerless to change anything. Or is he? Perhaps in writing his novel he is ordaining what will happen. And then he finds out that he (or an alternative “he”) actually wrote and completed the novel many years previously. The ending of the story is already known.

John’s thoughts:     Hmmmm. A difficult one to review. Ten pages in I almost ditched the book – it seemed overly complicated, difficult to follow, and even a smidgeon pretentious. But it was a relaxing holiday weekend and I stuck with it for a few more pages; and within 24 hours I’d finished the whole book and I’d have to say that I did enjoy it. But it is a complex plot that stretches credulity to the limit.

I certainly liked some of the themes in the book, and it does manage to cover an awful lot of ground – politics, religious extremism, UFOs, aliens, alienation, secret societies and human evolution to name a few. It’s tough to argue with some of the messages that are coming through about the need to better manage our world, the nonsense of politics, the abuse of religion and the general abuse of power. For sure, some of the targets Myers aims at in this book do need to be targeted. I also liked the main character – deeply flawed but very believable; certainly no archetypal hero. And the ending? You’ll probably either groan or smile. Actually, I did both.

Overall I’d rate this 3 stars. If you like quirky, satirical, fantastical novels about how humans are screwing up the world, this one is for you.

The American Book of the Dead ~ by Henry Baum; 248 pages; Backword Books (November 1, 2009)  US|UK|Canada.  Winner: Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival; Winner: The Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction.

About Henry Baum:  He is the author of the novels The Golden Calf, North of Sunset, and The American Book of the Dead. He also writes and records music under the name Ash Tree. Born in New York City, raised in L.A., with stints in many other places, he now live in Los Angeles. For more about the author check out his Website; the book’s Website; Facebook; Twitter; and where you can read the book for FREE in ebook format.

As always all comments will be answered by John, so don’t forget to click the follow up box so you can get his response.

Thanks for reading!


logankstewart said...

I've had this book on my TBR pile for a few months now, ever since I received it from Mr. Baum. Part of me looks forward to the read, but part of me is worried, too, for reasons that you've described. I'll get to it eventually, I suppose.

Thanks for the review. I'm expecting some sort of Vonnegut feel. Would you say that's fair?

John D said...

Hi Logan,

It's a loooong time since I read any Vonnegut (actually an embarrassingly large number of years which makes me feel rather long in the tooth), but I can see some connections.

There are certainly some nice ideas in this book, and once you get through the first few pages it's pretty easy and quick to read.

If you do get to it, I'd be interested to hear what you think. Cheers,


Blodeuedd said...

You know, this is truly the scariest header I have ever seen :)

And yes the book sounds good too

John D said...

Hi Blodeuedd,

Thanks for the nice words about the header. I take zero credit - it's all Shellie.

Do you know, we never connected the new header with "The American Book of the Dead". It was pure coincidence. I feel a bit daft now!

Oh well. If you read the book, please let us know what you think. Thanks for commenting. Cheers,


Matt said...

I'm reading this again right now. I couldn't put it down the first time I read it (also finished it in less than 24 hours). I could identify with a lot of the protagonist's musings, and really enjoyed the convolution and necessary suspension of belief.

John D said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad that you enjoyed it - it is one of those books that will divide a lot of opinions.

Suspension of disbelief is definitely a key to getting the most out of it! Cheers,


Alexia561 said...

Good review! I enjoy quirky, but get enough stories about how humans are screwing up the world onine and on the news, so think I'll skip this one.

John D said...

Hi Alexia,

Thanks for the nice words.

Reading the news every day will do that to you! Not sure what the answer is - sometimes a head-shaped hole in the sand does seem pretty tempting. Cheers,


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