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Q: Well, first—forgive me—a crafty question. I’m impressed by the way The Dead Do Not Improve balances Phil’s point of view in the first person and Finch’s point of view in the third person—a kind of architectonic feat, to use John Gardner’s term. That’s hard to pull off without making a reader lazy-eyed. How did that structure announce itself in the writing of the book?
A: Philip’s voice came to me first. I’ve always wanted to write from the perspective an overly sentimental dude who can’t quite get himself to commit to one specific broadcasted emotion. Finch’s sections came to me a bit later. I wanted to put together a third-person voice that could hold a lot of reflections about love. The plot of the book admittedly sounds a bit crazy, but I was really trying to write a love story, with a lot of asides and reflections on a decaying relationship.
Q: I’m also impressed by the up-to-the-minuteness of the story. Craigslist, Quizno’s, Obama—the novel feels like it was written last week. But there’s also an otherworldliness to this San Francisco, as though it’s actually a few absurd steps ahead of us—Personal Break-Up Coaches, the Being Abundance Cafeteria. I was reminded of what Gary Shteyngart said about the difficulty of writing about the present day, because the world is moving too quickly to capture. Was that a challenge for you? Did you have to write in a mad dash to stay ahead of your own material?
A: Quizno’s will outlive us all! People will always want toasted subs with too much Italian dressing. As for the up-to-dateness of the book, I really did want it to read like it had been written last week. The book deals a lot with Internet culture and what happens when we piece ourselves out to social media sites, chat clients, and the never-ending churn of website content. I thought the book would have to feel very current to achieve that effect.
As long as I could embed that current culture in sentences that I liked, I didn’t really see the newness as an artistic compromise. I hope we’re all over trying to write novels that will outlast even Quizno’s.
Q: You’ve lived in a lot of places—Seoul, Boston, North Carolina, now L.A. How did living in such diverse locales influence the world you’ve presented in The Dead Do Not Improve, and why did you choose to set your first novel in San Francisco?
A: I lived in San Francisco for four years and really loved it. Every recognizable public space in that city has this amplified energy about it, and it was always fun, as a writer, to try to capture those spaces. The city also has been the setting for a lot of hard-scrabble detective books. I love those old Raymond Chandler books (not to mention the Dirty Harry movies) and wanted their influence to hang over this novel.
Q: If you were stranded in a Laundromat and, like Phil, couldn’t find an unlocked Wi-Fi signal, what three books would you hope to have with you?
A: I sometimes dream about living in an apartment just out of Wi-Fi range. Right now, I’m subletting my friend’s place in New York and can’t figure out how to connect to his Wi-Fi.
There’s one open network I can access if I sit in one corner and angle my body a specific way. I was hoping this would keep me away from the Internet, but I’m weak . . .
But if I was in a Laundromat and I had enough dirty clothes to justify bringing three books, I’d bring Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, and Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, which I try to read a couple times a year.
Love him on Grantland, couldn't stand the book. Trying too hard to be edgy, meandering, hopefully his next book is somewhat more organized. Read morePublished 1 month ago by dbldn11
I picked this up because I read grantland. And I hated everything Caspian has to say about anything, because he is the epitome of worthless hipster. Read morePublished 10 months ago by dv77
Boring! I couldn't finish this book... I'd love to tell you how it ends, but I never quite reached it...Published 10 months ago by Reuben Kiva
Absolute garbage. Nonsense. Not at all a good book. Don't waste your time on this poorly assembled jumble of words.Published 10 months ago by P. Himes
Impossible to fill narrative and not the least bit compelling.
Characters were all over the place and story line was random. Read more
This novel combines snarky characters with a side-arriving murder mystery, all related via unique and drily funny prose. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Arts Lover Karen
This is the real life Bad Vibe Bob. i am not a "fictional" character at all. A friend alerted me to your novel and I would like to speak with you as soon as possible. Read morePublished 20 months ago by BVB
The lives of a detective and an under-employed Korean-American intersect when a woman is murdered in Jay Caspian Kang's novel The Dead Do Not Improve. Read morePublished 21 months ago by katherine tomlinson
I picked up this book and read the first chapter and put it down. I was turned off by the seemingly meandering and harsh content eventhough I loved minimalist dialogue style of... Read morePublished 21 months ago by JRT6