Wednesday, May 14, 2008

End Credits

Back when I was an undergrad at Saint Joseph's University, I had an English professor named Owen Gilman who defined an A paper as any paper that he wished he'd written himself. Reading A.F. Rutzy's latest novel, End Credits (Casperian, 2008), I couldn't help thinking of my former professor and how dead-on his definition was. Part mind-bending crash-course on the mysteries of the afterlife and part zany critique of the excesses of consumer culture, Rutzy's novel is, hands-down, the novel I wish I could have written. Combining Neil Gaiman's sense of magic, Kurt Vonnegut's wry wit and uncompromising moral compass, Thomas Pynchon's penchant for spiraling yet captivating narrative digressions and Don DeLillo's fascination with all things contemporary, Rutzy laughs wildly at the world at large while the rest of us avert our eyes in horror.

The fun begins when the novel's narrator, Raymond Kessel, dies while crashing the wrong funeral. The only problem is that the afterlife isn't remotely like anything his Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Simmons, promised. Instead of plucking a harp behind the pearly gates, he finds himself desperately trying to get a straight answer from a Grim Reaper named Cleo while inhabiting the body of a wealthy advertising executive. From here, the novel only grows curiouser and curiouser (to borrow a phrase) as Rutzy introduces us to a wide cast of memorable characters including (but not limited to) the previously mentioned angel of death, a desperate would-be rock star, a bumbling accountant, and a pair of wild hogs with an apparent fondness for sunglasses and shopping malls. Conjuring his vision of American excess with a careful balance of exuberance and aplomb, the Finnish author weaves an intricate web of characters and amusingly outlandish scenarios that had me hooked from the word "go."

Of course, that End Credits is such a good book comes as no surprise. It's the latest from Casperian Books, a press whose track record with such titles as Mouth of the Lion and The Tea House has made it one of my favorites. (And just to give a shout out to a favorite author of mine, Curtis Smith, I should also mention that his first novel, Sound and Noise, will be coming out as a Casperian title later this summer... I'm definitely looking forward to that one!)

Needless to say, End Credits earns an A in my book. And given the number of emails I've received from disgruntled students since the semester ended earlier this week, that's really saying something.

For a free sample of Rutzy's work, check out his short-short, Nolens, at Hecale: A Portal for Writers.

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