Monday, November 7, 2011

Deconstruction: Night of the Living Dead Christian 4

In which we consider the implications of author inserts...

Welcome to the detailed (and, unfortunately, spoiler-rich) review of Night of the Living Dead Christian. For a briefer review that doesn't give anything away, read the main review. If you're curious, here's a discussion of why I'm doing this.

This is a rather long bit of reaction, so I'm breaking it up into sections. Hopefully that will allow for more bite-sized discussions. So, now that you've all been fairly warned, we'll pick up the deconstruction after the jump:

So we return to the perspective of Narrator-Matt, who is tied to a chair the werewolf's home, along with Culbetron the Mad Scientist and the Hibbs 3000. Luther reveals a little more about himself, starting with the fact that he doesn't roam the neighborhood looking for people to eat. And, after a bit of repartee, Luther elaborates on why he took Narrator-Matt prisoner: "I had hoped you might have some insight about the transformative power of being a follower of Jesus." Not only does Luther recognize Narrator-Matt, he also has a copy of Matt's earlier book, Imaginary Jesus, sitting on the table.

Now, Imaginary Jesus really exists, and it was (surprise, surprise) written by Matt Mikalatos. So at this point it's pretty clear that Narrator-Matt doesn't just share Author-Matt's name, Narrator-Matt is meant to be the author.

There's a storytelling technique which involves building real-life people, places or events into a fantastical narrative in order to give the reader the impression that all this strangeness could be happening in real life! (I believe the technical term is "metafiction." Stephen King's Dark Tower series is an obvious example, since there too the author appears as a character in the story - though that isn't the only way to get this sort of effect.) Unfortunately, in this story it just doesn't work. Author-Matt has spent five chapters presenting us with Narrator-Matt, who is characterized as a well-meaning buffoon; with the result that I can't take seriously the idea that he and Author-Matt are actually meant to be the same person. In addition, the story itself is so farcical up to this point that I simply can't credit the idea that This Might Really Have Happened. It's not, in other words, a technique that fits into this sort of story.

I realize that I've been fairly critical up to this point (and I'm not done yet). Several of these elements - Luther taking over the narration, Matt Mikalatos being the primary narrator as well as the author - did become less distracting once I got used to them. (Well, and once I had some idea of what the story was doing with them.) So where Geds apparently enjoyed the first section, but hated the rest, I had some trouble with elements in the setup, and enjoyed it more once it got going. That's not to say that I didn't have issues with later sections; as you'll see, I did. But there's no clear cutoff for me where the book quit working as a story; some sections were quite enjoyable, and other sections were problematic.


  1. In the original draft of the book (which, of course, you have no way of knowing... and we're talking about the published work) the references to Imaginary Jesus were unfailingly self-effacing. My publisher made a (fair) case that they didn't think that a lot of my readers would "get it"... that when I was making fun of myself/the first book that it was meant to be funny. I wanted to keep the "meta" but moved toward less self-deprecation. I had mixed feelings about that, and still do. Anyway, that's more like a footnote than anything else, but I thought you'd be interested. Also, I am jet lagging right now, so if this turns out to be incoherent, that will be my defense.

  2. So where Geds apparently enjoyed the first section, but hated the rest, I had some trouble with elements in the setup, and enjoyed it more once it got going.

    So I'm just catching up on your stuff on this now as I attempt to write Part 4 of my own thing after a break of nearly a month. The thing that occurs to me here is that your review is almost entirely technical in nature. Mine was almost entirely visceral. I went in asking, "Do I have the ability to agree with this?" and not, "Do I like it as a book?"

    I think I gave the technical aspects a bit of a pass for three reasons. 1. I wasn't really thinking about it. 2. I wasn't actually judging it against, say, a Christopher Moore or Neil Gaiman book on the technical/storytelling level, so I passed over the things you're talking about while noting them somewhere in the back of my mind. 3. I read it as Christian fiction, so I pretty much assumed that it was intended for an audience that just wouldn't get it if left to their own devices.

    I suppose that seems mean, but I do recall a lot of conversations that were built around someone reading the Bible, then everyone waiting for the people in the room who actually knew things to explain what the Bible had just said. Allegory is not necessarily a highly valued skill set, sadly. So since it seemed that Matt was saying some things that absolutely needed to be said, I was willing to let him be a bit anvilicious, since I pretty much assumed that his audience would need it.

  3. Well, and given the nature of your blog, I'd kind of expect you to approach from a theological/sociological/ex-fundamentalist perspective.

    I came out of a rather liberal, easy-going version of Christianity that didn't have much use for fear, guilt, or social pressure, and I wandered away from it just about as casually and painlessly as it's possible to do, and at a comparatively young age. Plus, there's that pesky ol' English degree: examining the writing technique is only slightly less reflexive to me than breathing.

    All of that is a very long-winded way of saying that one of the reasons that I wasn't too worried (about posting my deconstruction at the same time you were doing yours) was that I was pretty sure we weren't going to be stepping on each other's feet. We're coming at it from very different directions in some important ways.


Feel free to leave comments; it lets me know that people are actually reading my blog. Interesting tangents and topic drift just add flavor. Linking to your own stuff is fine, as long as it's at least loosely relevant. Be civil, and have fun!