The Author is Dead by Ches Smith. Copyright 2018. Literary Wanderlust. 309 Pages.
This Palahniuk-esque dark comedy follows the author’s (hopefully) fictitious, semi-surreal journey to have his novel manuscript published. The novel in question is the very book you’re reading: The Author is Dead. The Ches Smith character, in a sort of meta recursion, is writing the book he stars in.
Who is our unlikely hero? Ches Smith is a recently divorced, withdrawn misanthrope working an IT job at a school by day and writing stories (and painting on his walls) by night in order to maintain his sanity. He doesn’t describe his physical appearance much save for the scar on his face leftover from a failed suicide attempt.
While attempting to find inspiration for his writing hobby, Ches has an encounter with a free-spirited ‘country-punk rock’ singer – a girl named Thalia – who is (spoiler alert) murdered shortly after their brief conversation. Ches acquires an unhealthy obsession for Thalia. After learning of her dead, he finds himself accompanied by either the ghost or hallucination of Thalia (a question left to the reader’s own interpretation) and discovers the inspiration to write a novel based on the increasingly bizarre events following the chance encounter with the object of his affection.
Written in first person, The Author is Dead is told through the wry point of view of the protagonist, Ches Smith. Ches’ sardonic commentary on his life and the intensifying absurdity of his situation provides much of the dark comedy. Obsession, jealousy, and the need for recognition provide the impetus for Ches to make increasingly poor decisions and commit an escalating series of crimes. By the end, in his manic drive to publish this chronicle of unfortunate events, the protagonist attempts to make the title of the book come true.
Despite some flaws, The Author is Dead is an inventive and entertaining saga about the struggle to be an author. As someone prone to view the world similarly to the protagonist, I took an extra bit of satisfaction in reading his saturnine ruminations, although I don’t know if that reflects well on me or not. The protagonist’s nicknames for coworkers was a delightful device giving characters with small parts more dimension. But I especially enjoyed the rants on humankind’s capacity for stupidity, like the description of helping the school’s teachers with their computers as a sort of Groundhog Day of dealing with the same simple problems over and over for the same people. Such is life.
I think if I had to name one criticism of the book it’s that there is a lot of “and then” rather than “therefore.” By “and then” I mean the story often has “A happened and then B happened and then C happened and then…” rather than “A happened therefore B happened therefore C happened therefore…” I think this works fine for the absurd semi-surrealistic style of the story, but in general this way of plotting a story can come off less compelling. The reason I noticed this, though, is because it’s a problem I encounter in my own writing – it’s the very issue I’m currently doing fairly extensive revisions in the manuscript for book 2 of my series to correct.
In the end, The Author is Dead is worth the read. This book may not be what you need in your life right now, but it’s probably what you deserve. I think the Ches Smith character would agree.