Who’d have thought writing a book review could be such a tough thing? On the surface it is simple enough. You read a book, you either like it-or don’t like it, summarize your thoughts and tap ’em out on your trusty ‘ole laptop.
It is not rocket surgery. Or brain science, as might be more the case with my latest read, The Cardboard Universe, by Christopher Miller. I struggled with the book. And with the direction of this review.
The dialogue-free Cardboard Universe is written in an encyclopedia format-522 pages!-and spoofs the life of sci-fi writer, Philip K. Dick. The novel chronicles the life of the fictitious author Phoebus K. Dank, who wrote 57 (official) novels, including “Big Dick,” featuring a character named none other than, Philip K. Dick. It is all very clever.
The novel starts by introducing the dueling narrators, William “Bill” Boswell, an author, lecturer and ex-roommate of Dank who is widely considered the nation’s leading Dankian and Owen Hirt, a poet and onetime friend of Dank who is the lone suspect in the author’s murder.
As Boswell points out early in the encyclopedia’s preface, “Dank’s fiction was a lifelong effort to make sense of his own life …. his fiction was always heartfelt, and even the tales he set in other galaxies were usually provoked by doings in his own backyard.”
And I would expect no less. Writer’s often reflect on their lives and search within their inner circles for inspiration, and where I might find material at my local language school or by speaking with my Italian father-in-law, Dank was inspired to create alternative universes-where a woman can transplant her mind and memories to a new, younger, more slender body every two to three years (to deal with her eating disorder), where people agree to battle “Sadiators” (pronounced sad e aters) in a “suicide duel,” where the goal is to kill your opponent with sadness by spitting sharp-tongued comments at them until they kill themselves, or even his novel, “And How Will I Know You?” where a virus called “the Proteu strain” infects the world’s population so everyone’s physical characteristics change each night as they sleep.
I hereby proclaim Christopher Miller a creative genius. It is safe to say his imagination isn’t limited to the 57 book summaries he invents in The Cardboard Universe … and as I writer I admire that. I respect that. No, I’m actually in awe of that.
But even with my admiration of his talent and creativity, the book didn’t grab me. It didn’t pull me in. It didn’t make me want to miss sleep, skip meals or hide in the bathroom to get through the next entry. It was only when I stopped pushing myself to read each encyclopedia entry in chronological order-like you’d normally read a novel-that I was drawn in. I finally got the humor other book reviewers found and was able to enjoy the book.
The Cardboard Universe is especially recommend for sci-fi lovers or Philip K. Dick fans or for those of you who are willing to invest a little time and are looking for something different in your next book purchase.
Have you read The Cardboard Universe? What did you think of it? You can purchase your own copy here.