4 out of 4 stars
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After a failed marriage and recent suicide attempt, Ches is a depressed writer looking for inspiration when he stumbles upon a chance encounter with an intriguing stranger, Thalia. After her subsequent murder and haunting visitations, she becomes his muse, setting the stage for the dark comedy, The Author is Dead by Ches Smith. Is Thalia a ghost or merely a wishful hallucination? Just how far will Ches go to get his book published?
A computer tech who hates technology, Ches is determined to become a published author so he can quit his day job at a public middle school in Houston, Texas. In search of inspiration, he frequents the local mall to engage in people watching where he has perfected the art of creating small meals out of food court samples. During his mall routine, he meets Thalia, a free-spirited punk rocker who is in a band named Zombie Cowgirls and immediately becomes infatuated. When he learns that she was murdered soon after leaving the mall, Ches becomes obsessed with writing her story. The plot thickens when he begins to have visitations from his new muse and is threatened by her unstable sister, Calliope. More twists and turns follow as Ches is reluctantly enlisted to create a website for the Pencils Down Movement, an anonymous group of middle-schoolers rebelling against standardized testing. As pressures mount, his actions become increasingly erratic as his grasp on reality blurs.
Written in first-person narrative with a healthy dose of sarcasm, this irreverent dark comedy had me laughing out loud as Smith parodied his character's obsession to become a published author at any cost. The book was well-written, fun to read, and hard to put down, and its ending was the pièce de résistance. The characters were well-developed and relatable in a dysfunctionally endearing sort of way.
Being born and raised in Houston, I particularly enjoyed the amusing but accurate references to Texas. "Texas has at least 365 seasons a year," and "Standardized testing in Texas is a revered pastime, like high school football, or Christmas," were a few examples that made me smile. The book's subplot about opting out of standardized testing was presented in a comical way but was also spot-on, as I have family members in the Houston area that have experienced similar issues. Additionally, the Pencils Down Manifesto was a clever and effective way to sneak in relevant information related to standardized testing amidst the otherwise humorous content.
My least favorite aspect of the book was the amount of R-rated profanity. I realize it's a personal preference, but I'm of the opinion that it could have been just as funny minus the expletives. Considering the language, I would only recommend the book to a mature audience. Even so, the creativity and comedic value are worth a 4 out of 4 star rating. It appears to have been professionally edited as I only noted a few spacing errors which may have related to the ePub version I read. Readers who enjoy dark comedies and satire are likely to appreciate the book.
The Author Is Dead
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