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The Dead Do Not Improve

2.78  ·  Rating details ·  861 ratings  ·  160 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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Average rating 2.78  · 
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 ·  861 ratings  ·  160 reviews

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Mar 14, 2013 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 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.
Jul 02, 2018 rated it did not like it
Truly the worst thing I've ever read. And that's counting books, magazines, tweets, Youtube comments, bathroom stall graffiti, spilled bowls of Alpha-Bits cereal, and how sometimes loose strands of hair can kinda look like letters.
Conor Olmstead
Nov 08, 2012 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 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
Mao Gallardo
Jul 27, 2013 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.
Oct 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Book Reviews
Short Stories

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
Lisa Beaulieu
Nov 15, 2012 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
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
Aug 16, 2012 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
Petula Darling
Sep 28, 2012 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.
Aug 22, 2012 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.
Cecily Kyle
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: cutthroat
I loved the style of this book but they story was meh. The way it was written made me really want to keep reading it but I just didn't really care about the characters. Wah wah wah...
I just feel so on the fence on if I liked it or not.
May 17, 2020 rated it did not like it
Joe Cummings
Aug 02, 2016 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 ...more
Larry H
Aug 11, 2012 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 13, 2012 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
Paul Glanting
Oct 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 21, 2017 rated it liked it
This is an odd one. It isn't a particularly good novel, truth be told. There's almost no sustaining narrative cohesion, no thread of developing storyline that sustains your interest. The characters are faintly unpleasant, in so far as you get to know them. The ending? Snert. Complete incoherence.

So if you're expecting a story, you will not like this book. You just won't. I didn't like it either, right up until I set down that expectation at around page 45.

Kang seems to write as a child of the n
Sep 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 02, 2012 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 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
Aug 14, 2012 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!
Mar 26, 2016 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 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.
Nov 02, 2012 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 rated it did not like it
Too much of everything not likable hiding an, otherwise, good mystery. Steven Chips narrates well.
Jul 19, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was strange, to say the least. It's sort of a murder mystery set in San Francisco, which I thought was a setting that was really well-explored in the novel, going into lots of detail about various locations around the city, touching issues related to the tech industry and gentrification of the city. It also wrestles with issues of Korean-American identity and how it relates to the Virginia Tech shooting perpetrator. There's shades of The Crying of Lot 49, with these underground conflic ...more
Jun 22, 2012 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
Peter Mortimer
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Its hard for me to put "The Dead Do Not Improve" into a genre. The Boston Globe described it as a Neo-Noir Novel and that is fine by me.
The main protagonist is a struggling writer named Philip Kim, who gets entangled into multiple homicide cases that force him to go into hiding. The book follows multiple story lines, that intertwine and connect at multiple parts of the story. Apart from Philip Kim you also follow the detective Sid Finch, who his assigned to the aforementioned murders. The book
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Read It Forward: * THE DEAD DO NOT IMPROVE by Jay Caspian Kang 11 42 Sep 05, 2012 06:06PM  

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