(4.5 / 5)
In Ches Smith’s The Author is Dead, one five-minute conversation in a mall’s food court in Sugarville, Texas, and it’s down the rabbit hole you go. Sneaky thing is, there’s no potions to drink or tornados to whisk you away to let you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. It’s just a completely plausible, slow-fast-slow devolution into hallucinations, blackmail by a bunch of middle-schoolers, and murder. Several of them. The first death seems sad, but somewhat commonplace. It’s the ones that follow and the truth behind the first one that tell you something’s definitely rotten in the state of Texas.
The Author is Dead is a dark, shrewd, cleverly-written piece of metafiction. All of the characters in the book are brilliant and real, mordant and flawed. Are they insane or just quirky? Or somewhere in between? Each has their own motivations and reasons for acting that contribute to and create much of the murder and mayhem in the book. While the main character, also named Ches Smith, occasionally goes on negative tirades that can come across as overly moralizing and preachy, overall Ches Smith the author does a masterful job of conveying the nuance and undercurrents of someone who is depressed and maybe a little unhinged. He effectively communicates the feeling of being slightly detached from the world around you, seeing everything through grey-tinted glasses that illuminate as well as cloud reality.
Ches Smith is an intelligent, gifted writer who makes the aberrant and bizarre seem not just possible, but reasonable. His ability to script twists and turns and the slightly askew, obsessed personality he gives the protagonist both lend themselves well to metafiction. There is a risk an author can run of the story becoming an exercise in narcissism, the protagonist being too self-absorbed when the main character is in his head much of the time. No problem here. The author deftly counteracts that with intriguing secondary characters, a well-integrated plot, and unexpected action. The Author is Dead is a disquieting, engrossing read, making you wonder how much of it is fact and how much is fiction. Ches Smith definitely has the writing chops to keep you reading while you try to figure it out.