In this review, we will consider the new novel by Ryan Boudinot as though it were a German chocolate cake. We have arrived at this approach after having rejected an earlier one, in which Blueprints of the Afterlife was interpreted as an allegory for the author’s time working at the Microsoft corporation. Unfortunately, the author never worked for the Microsoft corporation.
Like German chocolate cake, Boudinot’s novel—his third work after the extremely promising collection of stories The Littlest Hitler and the novel Misconception—has a diverse and rich family of ingredients. We might speak of certain literary components, such as the work of Kurt Vonnegut, the work of Richard Brautigan, the work of Tom Robbins, and/or the work of Haruki Murakami; these might stand for a square of German sweet chocolate, two and a half cups of cake flour, etc. Or, while on the subject of ingredients, we might refer to the author’s coming of age in the Pacific Northwest (one-half teaspoon shortening) or his facility with all things cinematic (buttermilk).
Each of these ingredients could be held responsible for the speculative-fiction preoccupations of Blueprints of the Afterlife, which include time travel, a replica of Manhattan under construction in Puget Sound, and a dishwasher who suffers from fugue states (a.k.a. ennui, an actual diagnosable malady in the novel’s alternative future). The story takes place during a historical epoch known as the Age of Fucked Up Shit. Beat the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.
A mere description of ingredients, however, fails to take into account the transformative process of reading Blueprints of the Afterlife, whose howls of dissatisfaction with what American culture is (for such is almost all speculative fiction) are kaleidoscopic, provocative, in-your-face, restless, sad. Boudinot’s earlier work, which was often very funny and which often featured an admirable sympathy for the gentler human emotions, does not prepare us for the savagery and darkness of the satire here, nor does it prepare us for the great sorrow that lies behind it. The transformative aspect of the reading experience, in which you are challenged to rise to the occasion—in a good way—is like unto the way that vigorous beating is required for the sheer magnificence of German chocolate cake.
Here’s a passage about a sentient glacier:
Several theories emerged to explain the origin and sheer persistence of the glacier. Many suggested the mass of ice possessed an intelligence. It was easy to personify, as it appeared to be deliberately targeting concentrations of human civilization… With its polar bears roaring, the great sheet of ice scraped skyscrapers off the face of the earth, ground power plants and apartment buildings and sports stadiums under its heels, and left behind a trench filled with strange artifacts from cities it had flattened.
German chocolate cake is noted for its layering, and its unique taste sensation is not fully appreciated until one has carved down into its successive strata and consumed the 650 calories of an individual portion. Blueprints of the Afterlife, somewhat in the style of the earlier novels of Thomas Pynchon, also has a manifest content that is often unpredictable, imaginative, and bittersweet, and a latent content—the rich, chocolatey layer of latent content—which is there for the perusal of those who take their time. The latent content of Boudinot’s novel awaits you, o dessert lover.
To read this novel is to feel keenly the dystopian future, especially the digital future of the Pacific Northwest; to be entertained and delighted; to be driven down into successive layers of complication and paradox, each more satisfying than the last. Total fat: 32.4 grams.