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The American Book of the Dead Paperback – November 22, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"If you read Lolita or A Clockwork Orange without drop-kicking the book out into the garden on a rainy day, this novel is for you." Tessa Dick, author of The Owl in Daylight, and widow of Philip K. Dick

"Reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." Largehearted Boy

"Really great - reminds me of Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut." Scott Booker, Manager of the Flaming Lips

Winner: Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival

Winner: The Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Backword Books (November 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0578026937
  • ISBN-13: 978-0578026930
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,950,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Novels tagged as apocalyptic sci-fi are usually not my bag, but I gave this one a chance and I'm glad I did. Part apocalyptic sci-fi and part psychological thriller with elements of more accessible literary novels and even neo-noir, this is a deep story that transcends genres. It feels like others' books, with influences ranging from Pynchon to Delillo to Philip K. Dick and more, but it also felt original -- always a good sign.

It started a little slow for me, as Baum has a lot to set up, but then it really took off as the end of society as we know it looms and chapters alternate between the wary hero, writer Eugene Myers, and a childish and deluded American president, Charles Winchell. Without giving too much away, both men believe -- and fear -- they are transforming into a new type of human that the post-apocalyptic future will depend on. Who wins out (or do they?) will tell the reader a lot about where we might be heading. As a line in the book states (I'm paraphrasing), the best sci-fi takes present themes and exaggerates them almost beyond recognition. I know they got me thinking. Baum also manages to avoid getting hung up on religion and politics, choosing to focus on the human nature that binds us all. The revolution is not just societal but evolutional.

My complaints are few. Some narrative and even dialogue had to be expositional in spots owing to the wide-reaching story and context, but Baum does well to blend it all in. The story could've begun closer to the world war that engulfs the planet and wouldn't have suffered too much. But that's more niggling than it sounds. The quality was there in the beginning to carry us along.
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I feel like I owe Henry Baum, the author of The American Book of the Dead, a sincere apology. You see, he contacted me early last year about his book, thinking that it might be something that I would enjoy. I agreed to review the book, but told him that our first child was due soon and that it might be a while before I got to the book. Undeterred, he went on and mailed me a signed copy, scribbling a note on a card wishing me the best of luck with my soon-to-be daughter and that there was "no rush." Then Avonlea came and my reading life was hit.

Finally, at the end of March, I picked up Mr. Baum's book. I vaguely remembered that the book was some sort of apocalyptic tale about a struggling author and some strange happenings. As long as it took me to start the book, had I known that I would finish it so quickly I would have started much sooner. (It's an easy enough read to finish in a long afternoon sitting, if you're so inclined, as the book weighs in at just shy of 250 pages.)

It is difficult to describe The American Book of the Dead. The first word I think of is "Meta." Then maybe "weird." It's really impossible to classify it as a single genre, as it touches on almost everything. It's post-apocalyptic, pre-apocalyptic, apocalyptic, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, suspense, religious, satire, and a host of other things. It reminded me a lot of Kurt Vonnegut, though maybe not as deep, nor as funny. A blurb on the book says it's very much like Philip K. Dick, too, though I've not read any of his stuff, so I cannot attest to that.

Eugene Myers is a struggling writer in his 50s. He's making do by teaching a class at a local college. He's bored and depressed and his wife doesn't really love him and he doesn't necessarily love her back.
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I struggled with determining how many stars to give this book. I enjoyed reading it a great deal, but also felt it had some deep flaws. The enjoyment tipped me into the four star range.

The simplest way to put it is that this is a novel telling the story of a man living in 2020 the events he wrote about in 2008 - only he doesn't remember writing them. The overlapping nature of the narrative isn't nearly the problem you'd think it would be. Baum is a clear writer and he makes the internal life of Gene Myers vivid. Unfortunately, it's really the only thing that I found vivid and realistic in the story, almost like a diamond had been mounted on a cardboard ring.

A Christian fundamentalist president, backed by his father and a mysterious cabal of global playmakers, decides the best way to fix the earth's problems is to wipe out virtually everybody and start over. While the cabal plans to reveal the reality of aliens and various reptilian overlord-type conspiracies post-apocalypse, President Winchell plans to rule as the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The supposedly violent and amoral world of 2020 is supposed to make people more amenable to the early part of this plan, but other than referring to public shootings and a pornographic primetime network show, the world Baum describes isn't that much different from our own. It's just kind of . . . flat. The president and those surrounding him are caricatures of fundamentalists. I was utterly unconvinced that these people would agree to cause the deaths of most of the people on the planet.

The ending was very disappointing to me also. Not really post-apocalyptic, not really political, more like a subjective tale from the point of view of Gene Myers. I really enjoyed reading this book.
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