While working on my latest draft based on the comments of my editor, Erin Stropes, I decided to check out the last novel that she had edited. “The American Book of the Dead” by Henry Baum was self-published last year and has won a surprisingly number of awards for a self-published title. Henry Baum is also the editor of the Self-Publishing Review and for those of you who remember, recommended Erin to me as an editor based on her work on “American Book of the Dead”.
“The American Book of the Dead” tells the story of Eugene Myers, a father at the end of his rope, who discovers that the book that he is writing accurately predicts the end of the world. The novel follows his attempts to warn humanity, the apocalypse and the aftermath. In the meantime, Eugene must also deal with his dysfunctional daughter, a disintegrating marriage and a crazy president who believes that he is the messiah.
The strongest part of the novel is Baum’s writing. Starting with the Douglas Coupland-like opening which straddles bizarre and absurd, the dread of the upcoming apocalypse, the bloody aftermath and the surreal lunacy of the American president, Henry Baum does show that he has some writing skill. Another strength is the uniqueness of the tale. Most stories follow a fairly predictable story arc, Baum on the other hand leads his story down some unpredictable paths. It’s great because you never know quite what to expect.
That said, there are some glaring weaknesses with the text. Baum’s characterization of the president, an obvious joke against George W. Bush, comes off as derivative and uninspired. I did not believe for a second that this individual could become president, or that he would be able to lead America willingly into a suicidal nuclear war. A disastrous war in Iraq, yes, but a world war, not believable. Baum needs the US President to be an idiotic buffoon to start the apocalypse but that is far less interesting than an antagonistic that is smart and cunning.
A final weakness with the novel is the ending, which seemingly comes out of nowhere. While I’m not going to describe it here, it does come off as Deus Ex Machina.
However despite its flaws, “The American Book of the Dead” is an entertaining read, most due to the excellent prose of Henry Baum. I look forward to reading his next book.