December 30, 2011

Do Not Read Every Word

As I finished reading "The Postmortal," Drew Magary's oddly serious and mostly terrible novel, I just kind of sat there for a moment and regretted what I had done. Why did I spend any amount of time reading this? I like Drew Magary as a silly internet columnist, so I bought his book and gave it a shot. I read the synopsis and ad copy which described the book as basically a speculative fiction thought masturbation on the end of death, but I never expected it to be serious! Magary is a king of poop jokes, dick jokes, and explaining why LeBron James is a cocksucker. That's his thing. Sports and low-brow comedy. This book mentions the Buffalo Bills once and does not tell a single joke. Writers can write what they want, but the author has so colored the experience of the reader in this case that the top review on Amazon.com is titled "Dystopian humor." I will repeat: the book does not contain any attempts at humor.

Here is my own sneering, flippant, spoilery synopsis of "The Postmortal": Authorial self-insert John Farrell gets injected with the cure for death, which stops aging but still allows for non-natural death to occur. The world essentially collapses for several uninteresting reasons: The overpopulation caused by The Cure kills the environment, oil runs out, Russia and China start invading and nuking other countries and their own overpopulated areas, and so on. The basic things that we have assumed for decades will destroy us all. The Cure doesn't even add that much to the story in this respect. These are all already issues we assume we will face even without a cure for death creating a massive population of 25-year-olds around the world. Where's the speculation in this speculative fiction? But anyway, self-insert John goes around falling in eternal love over and over again as old eternal lovers leave or die in various fashions. As the world falls apart, he adapts from a divorce lawyer into Rambo. Then America is nuked over and over and the world ends. HILARIOUS!

The novel is certainly dystopian, as the world we know slowly fills up more and more with violent gangs and global problems that eventually end the freaking world. (Oh, by the way, the most deadly gang is a pro-death, anti-Cure group that likes to paint their heads green. They're called "Greenies." This dark, realistic, dystopian future Magary is trying to paint basically has cast the Green Goblin as its main antagonist. Maybe I'm the only one who finds this funny.) The novel does not do a good job of building a believable world at any point past the present day. The most advanced technology portrayed in the book in the year 2079 is a sort of advanced iPhone called a WEPS and electric cars. Russia and China are the big evil empires, both basically reverting back to their politics of the late '60s. Peak oil dooms our economy and overpopulation dooms our environment. This is speculative fiction, right? Come up with something new! The whole genre exists so people can imagine what might happen in a fictional scenario, like, I don't know, if a cure for death were possible. Basically, Magary comes to the conclusion that a cure for death would sort of help all our normal, well-understood doomsday scenarios happen a little bit faster. Wow, well, that's so interesting.

All the speculation is left to the characters instead, but they don't really do anything interesting, either. Here are the things that a cure for death changes, according to the novel:

  1. Even more marriages end in divorce, and a new sort of 20-year marriage contract is devised. LOL!
  2. Prostitutes are given The Cure at terribly early ages, leading to odd eternally-young but withered-looking people. That's pretty funny!
  3. The government really does start setting up death panels to kill old people. Haha, Obummer!
  4. People now have to basically work forever, because they can never afford to retire. Psssh!
  5. Farming is a bit easier because stud animals can be guaranteed against ever dying, until a weird virus develops called sheep flu that kills hundreds of millions of people. I am literally rolling on the floor, oh my.
So, how does the book qualify as humor? It doesn't! And to be fair, the book cover and ad copy never promise humor. But the writer is so identified with dick jokes that everyone expects it to be funny, and apparently certain reviewers as on Amazon.com just decide to imagine that there must have been jokes, and that he was actually laughing out loud the whole time! The reviewer does mention that the third act becomes terribly serious and oddly unfunny, and it certainly does. But there was no humor before that. There is not a single joke in this book.

So basically what I'm trying to say is that I've wasted my time reading the whole book just to make sure I didn't miss something. Freaking Penguin Books published it, so clearly it must be good enough to enter the mainstream. But I don't understand why. An internet comedy writer decided to write an unfunny speculative novel that doesn't actually say anything new or interesting, but instead paints a picture of the world ending in exactly the way that everyone has thought it will for twenty years. 

To conclude the book review portion of this post, I'd just like to include one excerpt I enjoyed from "The Postmortal." The worst metaphor I have ever read appears in the novel on page 297. This is in a passage describing the genesis of sheep flu.

"...nature has an unlimited power to adapt to its environs to suit its needs--to sustain itself. It's not unlike a group of robbers trying to get into a bank vault. They may fail the first dozen times they attempt to break in. But they're constantly scheming, constantly trying to find a way in. As long as they go unnoticed, it's only a matter of time before they succeed." 

To be fair, this passage is supposed to be quoting a fake biochemist, and biochemists probably aren't great with metaphors in real life. But Magary came up with this metaphor that is just wrong in every way. That's not how bank vaults work, Drew. You don't just take a crack at it over and over until eventually it opens. That is the last thing a bank vault would ever do. At least according to my popular culture idea of a bank robbery, you pretty much either get a guy who works at the bank to unlock it for you, or you know the combination, or if it's a really weak vault, you just blow the damn thing open. It's really not an iterative process. And bank robbers don't go unnoticed. They run in and stick everybody up, then get out before the cops arrive.

Okay, I'll stop picking on this poor guy's novel. It was competent, and I'm jealous I can't have my own shitty novel on the shelves right now. My book review really isn't the point anyway.

The point is, I have to read entire novels. I can't stop halfway, and it annoys me, because I just end up wasting more valuable time (it's not like I'm gonna live forever, hyuk hyuk). Maybe the ending will absolve the sins of the first and second acts, I think (this hasn't happened yet). I can hardly say I have read a novel without having read the whole thing, but non-fiction I treat differently. So many history books, for instance, are padded out with repetition and pointless extra detail, that I can safely skip entire sections and still feel like I've read the book. You just have to know what to skip and what to read.

I read "Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland's Glory" a year or two ago, and it's sort of an extreme example of padding a thesis out to make a book. There's about 100 pages of meat in that book, followed by an impenetrable day-by-day account of every member of the Dutch royal family, none of whom did anything interesting. The meat explains the book's thesis, basically stating that the famed Glorious Revolution of 1688 was actually less an English internal dynastic change and more a bloodless and incredibly successful Dutch invasion of England. That's good, that's interesting, and I think that's accurate. I was convinced. Then the next two thirds of the book are unhelpful fat, telling me everything that happened for the entire century before and after the events central to the book's thesis. So, I stopped reading. Yet I still learned something and felt like I had a positive experience with the book.

In a work of non-fiction, a successful thesis should be placed at the beginning, so people can safely read the important part, then stop. But art seems to demand spreading out its meaning in the least efficient way possible, and that's creeping more and more into non-fiction. Starting a book or article with an example before the thesis the example is meant to prove is just prolonging the experience to the torture of the reader, especially if the writing isn't actually entertaining. Therefore, your novel better by damn entertaining before it tries to be thought-provoking, because if I give a shit about the latter need, I'll read non-fiction instead, which gets the point across better, most of the time.

We don't need so many words to understand these things. There's no need for more examples or print space or even electronic inches full of words. What's the point? Say what you mean, then prove to someone that it's valid, then they can go away.

Don't write a 400-page history book, is what I'm saying, and don't write a novel if you want to say something serious and you aren't an entertaining writer.

By this point, hopefully, you have stopped reading. Not to go all "puppetmaster" on you, but this work is self-parody. I'm criticizing masturbatory endless writing with an article that never ends. It just has more and more typed words going further and further down the page into infinity. I'm saying legitimate things for now, but eventually I will only be copying and pasting, so it becomes more and more clear that this is not meant to be taken totally seriously. Come on man, read the title.

But seriously, "The Postmortal" sucks.

You have full license to hate me and stop reading now. That's what I'm trying to say. This sucks. What I'm typing RIGHT NOW. It's terrible, and it should stop. There's only one way to stop it at this point, I'm afraid to say. And that's to stop reading. Click anywhere else. It's the internet, after all. Pretty entertaining stuff, overall. It's, like, everything there is in the entire world. Besides cool landscapes and stuff. You can only get photos of those. And really, the Grand Canyon is way, way better in person. Why don't you go? It rules, seriously. You have no idea. If you haven't been there.

If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid. If you are reading this part, you are stupid.

By the way, Drew Magary literally apologized for his book in the acknowledgments in the back. Or rather, he said sorry for the lack of poop jokes. Which is the same thing.