Browsing through my favorite bookstore, I picked up a copy of Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell. I don’t usually buy national bestsellers at an independent bookstore, but the manager highly recommended it, and I respect her opinion – so there ya go.
When I’m unfamiliar with an author, the first thing I usually do is check the back of the book for a bio. And what do I see? A conversation with the author – okay, maybe a little self indulgent, but a creative way to learn about him. Then following that was a section – Questions and Topics For Discussion. I’m beginning to question the manager’s opinion And then it follows with Bazell’s suggestions for further reading. Who does this guy think he is? This is his debut novel for pete’s sake! All right – enough. Time to get to the actual story.
I don’t think that I’ve ever seen footnotes in a fiction novel, but by page two, there they are. I don’t like footnotes, and I found that I especially don’t like them in novels. They’re a distraction and they break up the flow.
Okay, enough whining – again, onto the story.
Beat the Reaper starts off at a sprint and doesn’t slow down (except for the footnotes which just as easily could have been incorporated in the main text). Told in first person, Bazell’s prose is highly intelligently and comical that will keep you thoroughly entertained. But this is not a book for the squeamish. The graphic violence might turn off some readers. Dr. Peter Brown starts his narration by kicking the crap out of a would-be mugger. From there he goes into the hospital and calmly starts his rounds, scaring the hell out of the would-be mugger as he sits in emergency waiting to see a doctor. The humor and irony is consistent throughout. The chapters alternate between present and past, and without giving anything away (other than what I’ve already given away in the title of this review), they are artistically woven so you’ll continually be asking questions, but they all will be answered. And the final fight? All I can say is eeewwwwwww. Far fetched, but I loved it.
With all of my misgivings before I even started reading the book, Josh Bazell won me over by the first page. If you’re into high-paced, dark (yet hilarious) humor thrillers. This is the book for you.
“I don?t think that I?ve ever seen footnotes in a fiction novel, but by page two, there they are. I don?t like footnotes, and I found that I especially don?t like them in novels. They?re a distraction and they break up the flow.”
Plenty of novels have footnotes. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is full of them. Dustin Long’s Icelander uses them to great effect. When used well, they are a great technique to deepen the story.
Thanks for commenting. I haven’t read either of those books. In Bazell’s case, while the footnotes were quite humorous, for me they broke up the flow and I found them to be quite a distraction. Still a fun read, though.