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The Dead Do Not Improve

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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 end up killing one of his neighbors. Philip only learns about the murder the next day when bored and Googling himself. But when he gets caught up in the investigation and becomes the focus of an elaborate, violent scheme, he will learn far more than he ever wanted to about his former four-eggs-at-a-time borrowing neighbor Dolores Stone, aka “The Grey Beaver,” and her shocking connections to an underworld only a city like this one could create.

Siddhartha “Sid” Finch, a homicide detective bitter about everything except his gorgeous wife, and his phlegmatic, pock-marked partner Jim Kim, land the case. Sid and Jim race after Philip through a menacing, unknowable San Francisco fending off militant surfers, vaguely European cafes, and aggressive Advanced Creative Writing students as they all try to figure out just who’s causing trouble in this city they love to hate.

Exceedingly unique, pulsing with vigor and heart, and loaded with fierce, fresh language, The Dead Do Not Improve confirms Jay Caspian Kang as a true American original as obsessed with surfing and surviving as with the power of unforgettable storytelling.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2012

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Jay Caspian Kang

7 books168 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 167 reviews
Profile Image for Peat.
3 reviews
March 14, 2013
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 until it runs into the wall, like a slow-witted house cat. Unlike most pseudo-noir books, there's no villain getting his comeuppance, no hero being tragically broken by an indifferent society, no surprising reveal. Stuff just happens, and then stuff comes from out of left field and happens, new characters come in for no reason and no one cares. It’s like the author dusted off a short story from an undergraduate class, a story about a thinly-veiled surrogate for himself, and handed it again. There’s no depth and no meaning. That might be OK if it was entertaining, like a popcorn movie. But it isn’t. It’s just boring. A real disappointment.
Profile Image for Mao.
161 reviews9 followers
July 28, 2013
This is actually pretty good. I think it's just the white people who didn't like it.
Profile Image for Holly.
509 reviews507 followers
August 9, 2012
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. There is really no reason as to why he decides to take this investigation on in the first place, other than possibly out of boredom.

Also, this book takes place in San Francisco, which happens to be one of my favorite places on earth. The main character's at times obvious disdain for both the city and it's citizens was both off-putting and whiny. I mean...if he hated it so much, why not leave? I got the impression that his main joy in life was pontificating on how superior he was to everyone else around him. Not exactly a selling point in my opinion for for any kind of enjoyable reading experience.

Bottom line: A front-runner for my least favorite book of 2012.

(This book was provided by Edelweiss/AboveTheTreeLine.com in exchange for an honest review)

My YT Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/Bookgasmic
My blog: http://ravingbookaddict.blogspot.com/
Profile Image for Ryon.
16 reviews27 followers
July 3, 2018
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.
Profile Image for juch.
152 reviews31 followers
March 19, 2021
i find kang's voice kinda endlessly charming, and maybe the straight shitposting male asian american subjectivity endlessly charming too, but that's my own personal problem. should i dm this friend of a friend who looks like my ex?? why do i like ppl w literally, phenotypically large heads

so i loved the heavy style, the digressions, the insertions of things the author just seemed to personally like just for the sake of it: music, surfing, sf culture n history (wow this made me miss sf! like the smell of golden gate park, delicious sunset asian food under fog). did this book come together? not rly lol, but it was fun. and there were some rly beautiful scenes and descriptions:

-the childhood memories, the dad who listens to bob dylan, the mom who always gets lost. the white professor who corrects the parents' music misidentifications, "the embarrassment of something loved that was then found to be something else, a bigamist of a memory." my mom keeps spelling mango "mongo"
-relatedly, "the only evidence i've ever found of a compassionate god is how he allows us to excerpt our happiest memories up out of their contexts and hold them with the same care saint francis of assisi holds up his little animals"
-loved the motif of the fishy thoughts in finch's brain
-the sister's funeral speech. "i cordoned off a harsh little plot of judgment. my poems grew out of that acrid soil. truth be told, i would have done the same thing had i stayed in bakersfield. instead of of poems, i would have just raised miserable children" -- i don't think the protagonist's writerly identity was developed enough for it to feel a significant part of his character (or a strong enough tie to cho seung hui) -- he seemed more a drifter than anything -- but this moment, from another character, about being/wanting to be a writer was very touching and relatable
-ugh the sour/wry voice really made the moments of stupid, infatuated romanticism pop. even though all the women were flat, in that annoying, too-good-for-the-men way. again, i'm simping

as i've said already, the overall cho seung hui analogy didn't pull together. per author's note, kang seemed interested in exploring similarity/distance between himself + cho, while acknowledging that "the distance between us could never be measured, at least not in any instructive way." "there are no answers about mass killings or cho in the novel" -- fair, but this novel was crammed with so much (fun stuff!) that cho felt like an afterthought (weird)

there were many moments that pointed to the kinda race analysis that kang is so good at doing these days. like in a conversation about korean landlords, "when white people have to stop feeling guilty about you and start planning around you, it means you've arrived." or the deconstruction of feel-good race moments like the childhood memory of jumping in the lake with mexican kids. but often i wasn't sure what to make of these. like this not being an opinion piece, there's no interpretation. which is the strength of a novel, that you can let these moments sit and stir in true-to-life ambiguity, except this novel didn't so much do that as raise them and then forget about them/move on

i really admire kang's career trajectory of basically having spent his 20s and 30s writing weird contrarian shit and surfing. this was kinda inspiring, i think i'm going to write a bad novel someday and i can't wait to go skating today
Profile Image for Terryn.
20 reviews28 followers
October 10, 2012
Book Reviews
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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 Dead Do Not Improve”. Kang writes for Grantland, and I really enjoy his essays – they’re incisive, thoughtful, a little bit irreverent, all around pretty dope. So I was cised to get his book and support another writer of color, just to see what he had to offer. And while he has a unique voice and I love Kang’s non-fiction work, the novel left me craving more. Below are my lamentations:

I was confused – Let me clarify: I was more confused than I normally am. This was supposed to be a crime/murder novel with hipster leanings, set in San Francisco, but the whole time I could not figure out what was going on. Philip Kim, the main character, is the neighbor of an older woman who is mysteriously killed, and finds himself on the run because he think he might be next. Apparently he upset somebody (?). The trouble is that it was hard to understand why anyone would want to kill Phillip (he’s not that popping or interesting enough to kill, IMO). It’s also not easy to follow all the people in the book and get a good grasp on who did what, and what their connection was to murder. There were also reflections on race/minority status (Philip is Korean), relationships, hip-hop culture, dating, the Virginia Tech shooting, and the liberal culture in San Francisco. The book switched between Phillip’s first person account of his life on the run, and the third person view of Siddharta Finch, the detective responsible solving the murder. Flipping between the two narrative styles was a bit jarring. By the time I got to the end of the book I didn’t really care if they found the killers or not, I just wanted the book TO TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED so my brain wouldn’t explode. It was just too much.

The characters got on my nerves – So, I mentioned Philip Kim, who falls for this chick Ellen who is supposed to be some east-coast fleece wearing elitist who recently gentrified his neighborhood. Ellen is on the run with Phillip because he somehow managed to get her mixed up in the murder situation and she has to flee with him. Phillip was annoyingly mopey, and so THIRSTY for this Ellen girl that I worried that she wasn’t really worth it. It felt like he worshiped her whiteness more than telling me what was so special about her. At least let her be fly! At least let her be interesting! He made her seem like some Vera Bradley wearing chick who liked to bounce from minority to minority, sampling men like an international buffet. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I did dig Siddharta’s character. He loved his wife, he loved his job, he surfed – a standup guy. His partner Jim Kim was a hard ass, which is cool because he’s a detective and that’s what detectives are, firm in the buttockal region. Outside of those main characters there were miscellaneous miscreants, heavy-breasted hippie women, surfers, fat men, and homeless people. I can’t tell you exactly what all they were doing, but they were there doing something.

San Francisco seems ass – San Fran was a place that I always wanted to go: I imagined streets paved in Rice-A-Roni, super mellow inhabitants, great book shops. And then my homegirl went there and reported back – people are overliberal, it’s cold, there ain’t no black people. At least Kang seems to have gotten the liberal condescension right in “The Dead Do Not Improve.” Reading the book made me leery of ever booking my flight northwestward. I don’t think there would be any people that I could connect with in that city, with all its dot com millionaires and activists and granola types. The “anything goes” spirit of the city that comes across in this book as creepy and seedy. I guess I’m not as free-wheeling and laissez-faire as I want to believe *womp womp*.

So that’s it, those are my thoughts on “The Dead Do Not Improve”. Not my fave, but I can’t fault Jay Caspian Kang for not writing a book that I enjoyed – there very well may be some people who this story spoke to, it just wasn’t me. As a writer you can’t please everyone with your work.
Profile Image for Conor Olmstead.
30 reviews18 followers
December 13, 2012
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 American society. Both protagonists are Korean, which is cool but there is a lot of in depth exposition and explanation about what growing up for a Korean kid is like. While the initial idea is in fact cool the author basically drowns you in details. That aside the "mystery" part is not good. You have this 20 something Korean guy with no motivation and is a hipster writer, finds out his next door neighbor is killed. Somehow this turns into a confusing convoluted story of where he has some how been drawn into this deal where there is a cult...and also goes back to this school shooting involving a Korean person. Honestly I could not understand what was happening half the time. He kept introducing characters but either gave them too much detail or not enough so I could not remember who was who. The kid is an asshole and snarky and is honestly the type of pompous type of kid you would see at any Emerson/Berkley/Mass Art school who is full of himself and you honestly just want to deck across the face, but don't worry even with all his running around and giving exposition on his failed writing attempts and loving of hip hop he still finds some girl to have sex with and then fall in love.

The other main character is a detective, but is also surfer, and that's really all there is to him. It sort of touches upon his troubled marriage but he is literally brought from one plot point to the other by the big bad cult? ( I honestly don't know because I didn't know who was what). He was just bland and uninteresting.

The last gripe I had is this book was painfully trying to show how "current" it was. It was making references to facebook, twitter, iphones, craigslist just everything to show "HEY LOOK IT'S 2011 CANT YOU TELL!" But it was just sort of all over the place.

So yea not a good mystery and not a good book honestly. I can say you can skip this over entirely.
2 reviews
August 26, 2012
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 / Because the dead do not improve." Just replace "Louisville" with "San Francisco" and you've got the idea. (Or maybe SF is the false dream of a better place, the Nashville in the song?) But his novel also draws on the song's language, themes, and desperate, hopeful characters.

This is a hard book to describe, so I'm going to fall back on the "recipe" shorthand. Take one part Joan Didion's denunciations of the '60s counterculture, one part Philip K. Dick's conspiranoia noir, one part razor-sharp Balzac-ian takedowns of social mores, one part David Foster Wallace's embracement of pop-culture glossolalia, a dash of Salinger's fleeting beatific graces, and shake vigorously. If any of that sounds intriguing to you, TDDNI is well worth your while.
Profile Image for Brian Grover.
799 reviews5 followers
May 14, 2013
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 getting shot. Fortunately, I don't care, I was just glad the book was over.

In the afterword, Kang admits that the book he really wanted to write was one about the Virginia Tech shooter from the 2007 killings, Seung-Hei Cho. He tried, and failed, and then opted to write a book featuring a couple of prominent Korean-American characters who talk about Cho a lot. That doesn't really make sense, but it does help to explain why this book is kind of a train wreck.
Profile Image for Lisa Beaulieu.
241 reviews8 followers
November 16, 2012
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 you. Or it might be, hell I don't know, I didn't get 50% of it at all. Like, I bet a surfer would have been howling when the characters were on the beach arguing, but the lingo went right over my head. And tho I have no idea why the homeless man was giving a performance at the end, or why people started shooting, there was something so cynically true and funny about San Franciscans putting some poor schizophrenic schmuck onstage and mistaking it for art, that I went along with it.
1 review1 follower
August 16, 2012
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. As a reader you look forward to the childhood flashbacks of Phillip, which serve as reminders to the inherent racism within us and reveal the racism that children are exposed to every day but do not understand how to process at the time.

This story made me laugh out loud and cringe, sometimes both at the same time. Well worth a read and re-read.
Profile Image for Petula Darling.
771 reviews5 followers
September 28, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Jess.
629 reviews
August 22, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Cecily Kyle.
1,771 reviews18 followers
January 27, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Mellissa.
431 reviews6 followers
January 8, 2022
2/5⭐️’s// Again, this book started off pretty strong and then just abruptly ended with a nice tidy ending for the characters. It was confusing because there was no explanation as to why some events occurred. (3/100) #readlist2022
Profile Image for Jenny.
101 reviews12 followers
August 4, 2012
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 hipster’s guide to San Francisco. Many of his characters are young, cool, Silicon Valley or artistic types who are foodies, plugged into social media, and who understand Thunder Cats references--as much as Kang scorns them you can tell he is also one of them. His older characters also wax poetic about the good old days with such alacrity that you feel like a voyeuristic gentrifier yourself if you take just one step down Valencia Street.

If you’re not familiar with the city then Kang’s constant name dropping may seem gratuitous and the snide asides about gentrification of the Mission won’t be interesting, but for a reader in the know it adds richness to the story. The city isn’t merely a backdrop, it is Kang’s muse and it is San Francisco’s particular intersection of quirk, kink, and sub-cultures that gives Kang full range to wind you through a series of convoluted plot twists which involve a vegan cult restaurant, a bar named to honor a conspiracy theorist, belligerent Ocean Beach surfers, and the Porn Palace. This can all be found within one city’s jurisdiction. This is real folks. Look it up.

The book starts off with the murder of Philip’s neighbor and his accidental investigation of the murder leads him to believe both he and his neighbor are targets of a Latino gang who want to eliminate the incoming gentrifiers. Of course, Philip’s self-obsession might be to blame for this far-fetched theory...

To read the rest of this review go to Hyphen.

“Everything I find funny can be found somewhere in the first seven seasons of the show. Humor is important to human relationships. Therefore, if anyone born in America between 1970 and 1986 does not like or ‘get’ The Simpsons, he/she and I will be missing an integral component to human relationships. Only unhappiness can follow.” I learned it’s okay to let your Simpsons fanaticism deter you from connecting with other people.
Profile Image for Joe Cummings.
288 reviews
August 9, 2016
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. They both were good reads. Surprisingly they both had a lot in common.

Both are examples of West Coast noir crime fiction. Kang's is a first time effort about a murder in San Francisco as told by two narrators. A twenty-something Korean who has a MFA in Creative writing and one of the cops on the scene- a homicide detective named Siddhartha "Sid" Finch. Between this newcomer named Phillip Kim who was drawn to the city by the bay because of the lingering enchantment of the Summer of Love and the life-long surfing resident who was a product of the Summer of Love, the author is able to draw a portrait of a modern San Francisco that is sardonic and laugh-out-loud funny. Kang has the promise and potential to be the Ambrose Bierce of the 21st century. People who enjoyed Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice or Don Winslow's California Fire and Life will enjoy this book.

According to Roberto Bolaño, Mosley has "revitalized two genres, the hard-boiled novel and the American behaviorist novel" that was popular in the 1940s. Like Michael Connelly in his Harry Bosch series, Mosley has Easy Rawlins' recounted from his first arrival to Los Angles as a WWII veteran to (I suppose in some future volume) the end of his life. In Little Green , Easy talks about a case back in the late 60s when the Sunset Strip was filling with hippies from all parts of the nation. Like The Dead Do Not Improve , this a book of social observation as much as it is a crime fiction novel.

In both books, the narrators, Kim, Finch and Rawlins, reveal another commonality. Their authors-one an Asian and the other a black man-are trying to find and understand their own and their people's place as a minority members in a pluralistic society. This gives the writing in both novels an interesting and exciting urgency. So I recommend both of these books to readers interested in American geist. We all worry about where we are and where we belong in the world around us.

Profile Image for Larry H.
2,440 reviews29.4k followers
August 14, 2012
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 way through his job at an internet support site for men going through tough break-ups. One night, his odd neighbor, aging hippie Dolores Stone (whom he refers to as "The Baby Molester") is killed when she is shot through the window of her apartment. Phillip, who was sleeping during the murder, only finds out about it the next day when Googling himself, and discovers that Dolores was a far more complex person than he even knew. Somehow, Phillip becomes a suspect in Dolores' death (and a subsequent murder) and also a target in an elaborate scheme. He's being pursued by surfing hippie cop Siddhartha "Keanu" Finch (who has more than enough problems of his own) and his partner, Jim Kim, who both run into their own obstacles along the way. And while all of this is happening, Phillip finds himself falling in love.

If the description of this book sounds disjointed and confusing, it's because it doesn't quite follow a linear literary pattern. Jay Caspian Kang has created a vivid cast of complex characters, most of whom aren't what you think they are at first glance, and he takes all of them on a roller coaster ride of an adventure. This book is a little like something by David Foster Wallace (minus the footnotes) with even a little Dave Eggers thrown in for good measure. And while the multiple narrators, pop culture references, surfing lingo, and meditations on ethnic stereotypes may derail the story from time to time, there are flashes of brilliance in this story. There's so much going on at the same time, I found myself utterly confused, but I know that when the book ended, I felt like I had read something completely unexpected.
Profile Image for Bennett Gavrish.
Author 26 books137 followers
September 20, 2012
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 all is that he finds a fresh way to satirize hipsters. But when Kang tries to fold his vibrant characters into a murder mystery, everything falls apart. It almost feels as if he was determined to write a detective novel without employing any traditional elements of a crime story – you know, things like clues, suspects, or an actual puzzle to solve. Instead, Kang gives us a convoluted and underwhelming conspiracy.

The riffs and tangents in The Dead Do Not Improve are smart and daring, but they also chop up the already problematic plot, which ultimately dampens their impact.

Noteworthy Quote:

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.
Profile Image for Paul Glanting.
20 reviews1 follower
October 28, 2014
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 maybe because the bar where my parents met is even featured in Kang's book but I thought Kang's satirical but efficient noir was an excellent portrayal or millenial disillusion . Much of the criticism that has been lobbed at Kang's book states that the book doesn't go anywhere and that there are so many themes that they end up smothering one another. However, I believe when exploring issues such as class, race, sex and the overly complicated socioeconomic arena that is San Francisco, there is no clean and simple way to deal with these issues. The cynical and hormonal voice of the protagonist made for excellent framework into a world where it's never clear when symbolism is actually totemic of something deeper or whether, in a state of postmodern paranoia, objects are just objects. For a city like San Francisco that is undergoing immense growing pains, Kang's mercurial exploration of murder and transgression is one of the most accurate depictions of the city I've read.
Profile Image for David.
Author 11 books79 followers
February 21, 2017
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 net, which means the book reads like one of those ADHD hyperlink cascades that can consume an afternoon. You know, where you start reading a social media post, and it has a link in it, which you read, and it leads to another, and another, and suddenly two hours have passed and you realize you're deep into a collection of Esperanto poems about string theory and you're not sure how you even got there. This book reads that way.

The individual "posts," or vignettes? They're well crafted and pungent. Do they a good novel make? No. But they were still fun to read, even if they were often seemingly no more connected than the "narrative" of a particularly vivid dream.

Not for everyone. Not at all. But I did, to my great surprise, actually rather enjoy it.
Profile Image for Jenn.
187 reviews
September 16, 2013
Have you ever said "it's a girl thing" (substitute girl for any other thing)? Jay Caspian Kang's novel made me feel like that. Not so much the obvious "it's a Korean thing", but there were so many things - it's a Korean thing but also a surfer thing, a hippy thing, a San Franciscan thing, a generation angst thing - leaving this reader feeling a bit on the outside of some "thing".

The Dead Do Not Improve follows, in a dislocated way, Phillip Kim through a series of confusing events that remain dislocated to the end, seemingly by design. It seems that the confusing labyrinth is meant to make the reader feel as lost as Kim.

It was difficult to decide if I liked any of the characters because they were all slightly out of reach. It isn't a development issues; it seems that the author intends for the characters to be out of reach to the reader because they are out of reach for Phillip Kim. Kim spends his time feeling as the "other", willfully misapprehending and pondering the why of every other person.

Ultimately, what Jay Caspian Kang has given us is a love story wrapped in a maze of crazy. Though entertaining, this novel left me feeling empty handed.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Bandit.
4,393 reviews439 followers
September 2, 2012
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 annoying to really care about. The real strengths of these books were in the writing, very beggining and very end. The middle dragged, hopped and skipped and looped and overcomplicated itself. Decent first effort, shows some promise.
Profile Image for Anne B.
61 reviews
September 9, 2013
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 fucking Isaac. What's not to love?

Read this book for the mystery. Read it for the gentle flashes of snark, or the local color, or the narrator's nicely drawn fish-out-of-water perspective. Just read it. I think you'll be happy you did.
Profile Image for Sharon.
753 reviews
August 23, 2012
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!
45 reviews15 followers
May 7, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Shannon.
199 reviews88 followers
Want to read
May 26, 2012
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.
Profile Image for JOEY.
26 reviews3 followers
March 8, 2013
I'm still puzzled as to how this book became San Francisco bookstore Green Apple's book-of-the-month.
Profile Image for Cindy.
3,392 reviews155 followers
April 5, 2014
Too much of everything not likable hiding an, otherwise, good mystery. Steven Chips narrates well.
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