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The Dead Do Not Improve

2.82  ·  Rating Details ·  735 Ratings  ·  141 Reviews
Hailed as The Awl’s 2012’s novel to anticipate, this glorious debut stars hippie detectives, a singular city, and an MFA student on the run.

On a residential Bay Area block struggling with the collision of gentrifier condos and longtime residents, stymied recent MFA grad Philip Kim is sleeping the night away when bullets fly through a window in his apartment building and en
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Hogarth (first published January 1st 2012)
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Mar 14, 2013 Peat rated it did not like it
The title should be "this book does not improve." It starts out OK, a modern pseudo-noir. But the author has a lot he WANTS to say about the perception of Korean Americans and aging hippies and class relations in San Francisco. But it just ends up reading like a bad travelogue following unlikeable protagonists around. And then stuff happens for no reason, and no one cares, and the end. The characters don't learn or change or really have anything happen to them. They just follow the plot string u ...more
Aug 09, 2012 Holly rated it did not like it
I usually skip writing reviews of books I don't like. But, since this book was provided in exchange for a goes.

To be blunt, I didn't like anything about this book. There were no likable characters. Not one. The plot was disjointed and pointless. The writing style was self-indulgent. It was just a mess.

The main character decides to investigate the murder of a neighbor he can't stand (whom he lovingly nicknames "Baby Molester") after she is killed by a stray bullet while she sleeps.
Conor Olmstead
Dec 13, 2012 Conor Olmstead rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No One Ever
So I picked this book up on a whim. I think I saw it at the Booksmith and the premise sounded good. The idea is it's a mystery that takes place in San Francisco (place I like and have not read many mysteries there). It stars a guy my age and another detective, and says it's supposed to be a contemporary and funny read.

Yeah that was a bold face lie. This was this authors first book and it shows. What they don't mention is that this book is also a deeper read of what life is like in Korean America
Aug 26, 2012 R. rated it it was amazing
The Silver Jews' song "Tennessee" is a funny, punny, sad song about sad people who blame who they are on where they aren't (Nashville) as much as on where they are (Louisville). The song grapples with Big Truths by being ultra-specific. It plants a flag in a moment and uses that moment to implicate us--the listeners--in our failures but still hope that tomorrow might somehow be different. Kang took the title of his book from "Tennessee": "You know Louisville is death / We've got to up and move / ...more
Oct 09, 2012 Terryn rated it liked it
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October 9, 2012
Book Review: The Dead Do Not Improve

I will read anything. The phone book, the back of a cereal box, those creepy proselytizing pamphlets you find at bus stops, it doesn’t matter. Even if it’s boring I will give (almost) any printed word a whirlHowever, it frustrates me when I expect something to be a savory, sumptuous read and it doesn’t deliver what I want. This is how I felt after reading Jay Caspian Kang’s “The
Brian Grover
I was surprised at how bad this book was. I've read a fair amount of Kang's stuff on Grantland, and enjoy him as a writer. He can spin a semi-obscure '90s pop culture reference with the best of them (come to think of it, that seems like a requirement for anyone who writes for Grantland), but this book is held together with a threadbare plot that ultimately falls completely to pieces at the end.

I literally don't know what happens in the penultimate scene, other than a handful of characters gettin
Petula Darling
Sep 28, 2012 Petula Darling rated it liked it
Contrary to many reviewers, I really enjoyed this book...or I was enjoying it, right up until the big climax when I suddenly realized I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I thought maybe I hadn't been paying enough attention, so I went back and reread several chapters but didn't glean much more information.
I remain clueless as to who did what and why, but I can still say the overall experience was enjoyable.
Mao Gallardo
Jul 28, 2013 Mao Gallardo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
This is actually pretty good. I think it's just the white people who didn't like it.
Joe Cummings
Aug 08, 2016 Joe Cummings rated it really liked it
Recently I decided to spend the weekend reading Jay Caspian Kang's 2012 novel The Dead Do Not Improve and Walter Mosley's 2013 Little Green which is the twelfth addition to his Easy Rawlins series. I chose Kang's novel because I was intrigued by the title; I chose the latter because a favorite author of mine, Roberto Bolaño, wrote praisingly about the series on the dustjacket and because my old friend Joe Distretti called it a good read that "keeps your interest throughout." He was right. Th ...more
Larry Hoffer
Aug 14, 2012 Larry Hoffer rated it liked it
Jay Caspian Kang's The Dead Do Not Improve is a trippy, kaleidoscopic adventure through San Francisco, with a misanthropic wanna-be writer as its protagonist, and surfing cops, advanced creative writing students possibly with murderous intentions, infamous street protestors, and others along for the ride. It is part murder mystery, part love story, part commentary on our fame- and internet-obsessed society, and part, well, I'm not sure.

Phillip Kim is a disaffected wanna-be writer who scams his w
Bennett Gavrish
Sep 20, 2012 Bennett Gavrish rated it liked it
Grade: C

L/C Ratio: 70/30
(This means I estimate the author devoted 70% of his effort to creating a literary work of art and 30% of his effort to creating a commercial bestseller.)

Thematic Breakdown:
40% - Analysis of modern American culture
20% - Detective mystery
15% - Sex
15% - San Francisco
10% - Literature

In his debut novel, Kang proves himself to be a brilliant writer with mediocre storytelling skills.

He switches from hilarity to poignancy like a master, and perhaps his greatest accomplishment of
Sep 15, 2013 Jenn rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lisa Beaulieu
Nov 15, 2012 Lisa Beaulieu rated it liked it
Let me say right off the bat, I have no idea - literally none - what happened in this book at the end, how the "mystery" was resolved. And yet, I still liked it very much. It made me laugh out loud at places - I am not sure, but I think that having myself been an east-coast transplant living in SF Bay area made me appreciate the humor more than some might. For instance, he calls his anonymous neighbor "Performance Fleece". If that doesn't make you laugh right now, this might not be the book for ...more
Aug 16, 2012 Janice rated it it was amazing
The main characters in the book are flawed and likeable; we finally have a Korean protagonist that defies the standard asian roles of long standing, muted suffering prescribed by our society. Phillip Kim is spastically, erringly human. He becomes involved in a murder mystery and his story is entwined with that of a disgruntled surfer-detective. At times, both meander through their lives without observation or understanding, while other times they are self loathing, introspective and sentimental. ...more
Sep 02, 2012 Bandit rated it it was ok
I was intrigued by the title and the cover, plus I like to keep up on current fiction. This book was sort of a mized bag, interesting and occasionally very well written, revealing the author's considerable talent for prose, but at the same time somehow unengaging and hollow. There was something about this book, something too trendy, too self aware, too stylized, too convoluted as the plot progressed to really let it shine. Most characters, except for the surfing detective, were just a bit too an ...more
Anne B
Sep 08, 2013 Anne B rated it really liked it
San Francisco is my adopted hometown, but the familiar setting wasn't why I liked this book. My husband is Asian-American, but that's not why, either. I've read (and loved) Jay Caspian Kang's riveting nonfiction pieces -- but even that's not the reason.

I liked this book because it's hard to blend authentic pain with genuine fun, but Kang has done it here. He's written a twisty mystery with real tension, and lit it throughout with a touch of the absurd. Also, he takes us surfing with Chris fuckin
John Lee
Aug 22, 2014 John Lee rated it it was ok
A whirlwind tale in San Francisco that goes through a whole lot but which I struggled to connect with. The book was great in spots and definitely hit some nerves, but overall, the sentence structure was often confusing and it seemed like a book meant for people who were somehow more culturally aware or just more perceptive than me. I'm not sure. To be honest, I did like it more than the rating would indicate, but my overall impression was that it was OK more than that I "liked it."
Aug 22, 2012 Jess rated it it was ok
For the first third or so of this noirish novel about a pair of murders in SF, I was all, like, yeah, Kang is the Korean Colson Whitehead, perhaps even angrier! And then the surfing detective Sid came on the scene, and he seemed fairly familiar, so I just rolled with it. And then I got to the climax, and I'm pretty sure huge chunks of it are still at the printer's. So there's that.
Aug 22, 2012 Sharon rated it liked it
Odd, dark, comical, confusing - brought to mind Steve Erickson and David Foster Wallace. The city of San Francisco is a character in the melee, and the most vivid one at that. I need to read it again and make a flow chart!
Mark Connell
May 07, 2016 Mark Connell rated it liked it
Paints a picture of some hipper, hipster, more bizarre lives with some sort of crime mystery going on. It doesn't come all together. Some funny, share-worthy sketches in here. I liked the reflection on the book from the author at the end - helped me understand what was going on.
May 26, 2012 Shannon marked it as to-read
Shelves: dnf
The thing is, this is just not a good fit for me. I am all about a good story. There probably is a good story here but I can't connect with it if there is.
Mar 08, 2013 JOEY rated it did not like it
I'm still puzzled as to how this book became San Francisco bookstore Green Apple's book-of-the-month.
Apr 05, 2014 Cindy rated it did not like it
Too much of everything not likable hiding an, otherwise, good mystery. Steven Chips narrates well.
Sep 13, 2012 Randall rated it liked it
Jay Caspian Kang does some writing for sports site Grantland.

I should say, he does some very good writing for Grantland. I like his style and voice. There is a complete dearth of quality sports writing these days, in my opinion, especially longer-form writing.

It would seem Grantland was founded at least partially in the interest of reviving what appeared to be a bit of a dying genre in the fast pace coverage of sports on the web.

While Grantland is only too happy to stray from the path of serious
Jul 03, 2013 Justin rated it liked it
I'm a big fan of the writing Kang does for Grantland, and I really wanted to like his novel. There were parts of it I did like--he's pretty good at making fun of the silly things about San Francisco that I know very well, and there are a few moments of really keen observation (there was a line about how you always love the first person you fell in love with that really struck me), but I had some issues with the book.

My biggest problem is that the narrative is way too "hipster" for me. Allow me t
Aug 03, 2012 Jenny rated it liked it
Recommended to Jenny by: ARC
Shelves: story
Korean American Machismo

Liberal-arts-college-educated Philip Kim of Jay Caspian Kang’s debut novel, The Dead Do Not Improve is a Gen X, tight-jeans-wearing, earlier wave gentrifier of the Mission District in San Francisco--apparently now on its “seventh wave”--weaned on the Simpsons, nineties hip hop, nachos from Taqueria Cancun, artisan coffee from Valencia Street shops with one noun names, and artfully poured drinks from obscure Guerreo Street bars. You can’t help but feel like it reads as a h
Karl H.
May 04, 2012 Karl H. rated it liked it
The Dead Do Not Improve is a very odd story with a noirish conspiracy plot and pop culture/English lit references galore. There are some fairly offensive and stupid parts in this book. There are also some good insightful ones. The Dead Do Not Improve is very uneven- if it were a table, it would wobble.

Beginning with the unavoidable, there are just a lot of portions of this book that don’t work. The most obvious example is the very first one- a recent murder victim is nicknamed “Baby Molester” b
Sep 11, 2016 Kevin rated it it was ok
I think the biggest problem with The Dead Do Not Improve is that it doesn't know what it's about. Either that or that there is no resolution to the "mystery" that is ostensibly central to the novel's plot.
There are two major themes that I think this book is basically "about." One is the disaffectedness experienced by many young people living in this hyperconnected internet era. This is a new and interesting topic, but the novel seems to lose interest in exploring these ideas as the plot thicke
Aug 21, 2012 Kate rated it it was amazing
This book is hard to define, as the current reviews here show - it is hilarious, intelligent, well-written, and for once, makes real judgments and observations about current American culture (and its literary culture) that most contemporary novels fail to do (at least with any originality). Strangely, I thought of Franzen while reading this book -- its ambitions are ultimately large, but Kang's approach is anti-Franzen. It's both an homage to Northern California and a self-ridiculing satire, an ...more
I don't feel like I have the cultural capital to understand and like a book like this. I felt like it was trying for a modern (2000s) version of High Fidelity, but it just fell short for me.

As a middle class white girl, I know I'm not really allowed to talk about race, but Kang felt like he was just whining a lot here. I found it funny that he aspired to be treated as the Jews: "'We were talking about Jews, man. Koreans as the new Jews. When white people have to stop feeling guilty about you and
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Read It Forward: * THE DEAD DO NOT IMPROVE by Jay Caspian Kang 11 40 Sep 05, 2012 06:06PM  
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“Love and cities are always inextricably entwined. There's no restaurant or corner store or run-down dive in any city that doesn't double as a monument for a lost love. I think that's why we always stop and stare whenever we come across a girl crying in public. We sense the imprint of a memory being pressed onto the sidewalk, onto the building contours, onto the names of the streets.” 3 likes
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