Blueprints of the Afterlife
Black Cat / Atlantic Grove Press
US Trade Paperback First Edition
Publication Date: 1-03-2012
416 Pages; $14
Date Reviewed: 02-14-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012
The problem with mirrors and photographs is that they generally show us precisely what we do not want to see — reality. Literature has this unfortunate trait as well, but good prose and an original vision can mask reality and make it look entirely different. Instead of our tired, crud-filled, dysfunctional mess of a world, a good writer can hold up a mirror, show us precisely what is going on and have it appear to be a thrilling, surreal, almost unfollowable novel of a post-post Apocalypse.
In 'Blueprints of the Afterlife,' Ryan Boudinot takes up mirror-holding duty, and does himself proud, weaving a particularly bizarre and often unpleasantly detailed story that nonetheless captures our imagination and sucks us in. Boudinot is an expert at mixing the familiar and the slightly familiar in a manner so as to create outré collages that have the ring of truth even though the scenes are patently absurd. He's a master of the hand-waving school of science fiction, giving readers just enough of a trail of breadcrumbs to keep us focused on the there-and-then he's creating so that only subliminally do we realize that he's just writing about here and now.
'Blueprints of the Afterlife' is a picaresque post-post apocalyptic journey with characters crisscrossing one another's paths while the reader searches for resolutions and connections that are not always in the offing. It's two steps after the apocalypse, referred to with a phrase you cannot use on the radio. A world champion dishwasher gets an unusual writing assignment and a group of goons out of a video game is sent into a virtual New York. Maybe it's real, or going to be real. The world is a bit confusing, it's pretty ugly, very dangerous, and that is the point. For all the in-your-face strangeness that is alternately compelling, grotesque, surreal, challenging and disorienting, the leftovers Boudinot's characters are warming up are nothing less than this world, right here and now, as it might look were a sort of cosmic, planet size drunk to consume the earth and regurgitate it into a new, messier version.
Boudinot pulls off this reading experience and makes it fun by focusing on the basics. He gives us a galley of extremely well drawn if weird characters to follow across a landscape wrought in prose that is often very funny and very disturbing in the same moment. While the danger in these sort of visions is that the formlessness and chaos of the world leaks into the plot, Boudinot craftily sidesteps this danger by making a search for the genesis of the world by characters as well as the reader a focal point of the action. And Boudinot knows that we want our surreal action in excess. Here is a novel that excels in excess. This is not nearly so easy as it sounds. Giving the reader that pleasant feeling of overload without letting it lapse into mere confusion requires a lot more discipline than the writer is able to display on the page.
'Blueprints of the Afterlife' is an excellent exercise in weird. Now, chances are you will have to like weird going in. If you are looking for a post-apocalyptic novel that is essentially is vision of the 1950's, as so many of them (particularly the zombie apocalypses) are, this is not that novel. Boudinot is not shy when it comes telling you what he's about with this novel; he does, after all, use the word "Blueprints" in the title. For all the weirdness, all the dislocating, discombobulating techno-crap that's strewn Boudinot's landscape, to see what he's talking about, all you have to do is look out your window. Or if you're feeling brave, look in the mirror.