The Dead Do Not Improve by Jay Caspian Kang
The synopsis of Jay Caspian Kang’s The Dead Do Not Improve promises a novel that is “exceedingly unique, pulsing with vigor and heart, and loaded with fierce fresh language.” Of the three assertions, the first and the last are definitely true.
Phillip Kim is a spectacularly shallow, young man living in San Francisco. He works for a scam Internet company that preys on lonely people and recreates primarily by caricaturizing fellow denizens of the City by the Bay. When Dolores Stone, Phillip’s aging porn star neighbor, is killed, seemingly by accident, he is drawn into a ludicrous adventure on the run from gang members, the police, and a shadowy organization intent on purifying society. Meanwhile, in parallel chapters, SFPD officer and surfer, Sid Finch, probes the cause of Dolores’s death.
Phillip’s wit is really the sole thing that makes him likable, and for the most part most of the novel’s cast are mediocre people (personally and professionally). The Dead Do Not Improve shares its protagonist’s flaws. Shrewd and witty observations are combined with a mystery that meanders and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. This certainly doesn’t mean the book isn’t entertaining, but by the penultimate chapter, when Phillip and Sid’s paths finally cross, a lot of questions are left without being satisfactorily answered.
Despite a disappointing ending and a shortage of likable characters, The Dead Do Not Improve does succeed when being funny. For readers in the mood for merciless satire, I would recommend it, but those in search of an intricately plotted mystery should look elsewhere.
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