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The Dead Do Not Improve

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2.81 of 5 stars 2.81  ·  rating details  ·  591 ratings  ·  123 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
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Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Hogarth (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,283)
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Peat
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
Holly
I usually skip writing reviews of books I don't like. But, since this book was provided in exchange for a review...here 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.
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R. B.
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
Terryn
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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
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Conor Olmstead
Dec 13, 2012 Conor Olmstead rated it 1 of 5 stars
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
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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
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Petula Darling
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
This is actually pretty good. I think it's just the white people who didn't like it.
Cheryl
As part of Hogarth's inaugural list, THE DEAD DO NOT IMPROVE reflects the author's unique voice as a contributor to Wired and editor for Grantland, an online sports and pop culture magazine. This limited focus, however, sets a narrow trail for a mystery novel.

Jay Caspian Kang has captured the stagnating drivel of today's speech where feelings and values must be hidden to be accepted. Kang writes as if his hands are off the wheel, veering from the interstate to why are we here? There are digress
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Larry Hoffer
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
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Jenn
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bennett Gavrish
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
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Lisa Beaulieu
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
Janice
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
Anne B
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
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Bandit
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
Cindy Barnett
Too much of everything not likable hiding an, otherwise, good mystery. Steven Chips narrates well.
John Lee
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."
Xyz13
Sep 18, 2014 Xyz13 rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: insomniacs
You'd think it would be possible to make a hidden battle between Cafe Gratitude and kink.com into an interesting novel. That may well be so...but it's not this one.

I have to admit that I didn't technically finish the book: I put it down 25 pages before the end, when it became clear that Kang had no idea how to resolve all the half-baked plot ideas he's began. I might still have persisted if I'd cared about any of the characters, but I didn't.

The book isn't a total waste: it's a good argument for
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Jess
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.
Paul Glanting
It's apropos that Kang's book has been likened to Pynchon's classic The Crying of Lot 49. I remember reading Pynchon's book while an undergrad at UCLA. Much like the response Kang's book is getting, my classmates were aggravated at the lack of closure, the excess of allegory and the overall snark. I, however, love these nebulous symbols. Perhaps it's because I grew up blocks from the central plot points of The Dead Do Not Improve or perhaps it's because I love the harsh break at ocean beach or m ...more
Sharon
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!
Shannon
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.
JOEY
I'm still puzzled as to how this book became San Francisco bookstore Green Apple's book-of-the-month.
Jonathan
I probably owe this one another read to see if it strikes me more as a four-star book. It initially did. The setting is vivid and the characters are quirky and believable. Rounding the bend on the last quarter or so of the book I was fully expecting it to get those four stars. But the way the loose ends came together was a little ponderous. I admit that I started and stopped the book a couple of times and finished it on airplanes and at the beach, so it may be the kind of book that reveals itsel ...more
Jenny
Aug 03, 2012 Jenny rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
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Sheri
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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Kathleen

In The Dead Do Not Improve, protagonist Philip Kim inhabits the frightening, seedy underworld of San Francisco, one the tourists never see. When his neighbor, who he calls the “child molester” for no good reason, is murdered, and he unwittingly makes eye contact with a member of a notorious street gang, Kim holes up in a shabby hotel.
At the same time, police offer Sid Keanu Finch, who is investigating the woman’s murder, encounters troubles of his own. When he goes to interview Miles Hofspaur,
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Karl H.
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
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Kevin
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
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Read It Forward: * THE DEAD DO NOT IMPROVE by Jay Caspian Kang 11 36 Sep 05, 2012 06:06PM  
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Grantland Quarterly no. 7 Grantland Quarterly no. 8 Grantland Quarterly: Vol. 9 FENCE End of Summer Fiction 2013

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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.” 1 likes
“The worst have scraped out the mantle of the best and wear it around as something real. It takes no genius to see that. But I moved to San Francisco because the masquerade of kindly gestures is, at least, kind. And it remains kind. And all the people who would sit back and comment on the garishness of the costumes, the hollowness of the dialogue, the lack of divine conviction, well, all those people are either dead or fifteen years old.” 1 likes
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