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The Dead Do Not Improve

2.81  ·  Rating details ·  793 Ratings  ·  147 Reviews
In this glorious debut novel, Jay Caspian Kang gives us a story of murderous intrigue, hippie detectives, and an MFA student on the run—a true original in terms of story, voice, language, and humor.

Philip Kim, stymied recent MFA recipient and a scathing, expert capturer of the filth and glory of our modern times, becomes the focus of an elaborate, violent scheme after the
Kindle Edition, 274 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Hogarth (first published January 1st 2012)
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Mar 14, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 08, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
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.
Mao Gallardo
Jul 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
This is actually pretty good. I think it's just the white people who didn't like it.
Cecily Kyle
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Joe Cummings
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 H
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
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 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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 23, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english
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 14, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
Too much of everything not likable hiding an, otherwise, good mystery. Steven Chips narrates well.
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Though I enjoyed some of Jay Kang's writing at Grantland (RIP :() this book didn't do too much for me. As this was my first audio book ever, and as fellow reviewer Peat put it, "the title should be "this book does not improve.", I'm happy to have not spent my time reading it.
Mackenzie Elias
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Regardless of what anyone else says, I think this book was excellent. Witty, funny, enticing, and interesting. I'd recommend taking the time to read this.
Dec 31, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was a book I won that had been sitting on my TBR shelf until now. Overall, the story has some interesting ideas and viewpoints that in the end felt poorly executed. About the first third-ish was interesting and then it got kind of muddled to me. Basically two characters wander around the edge of a murder mystery, one the neighbor of the victim & the other the detective on the case, espousing their views of things with little to no character development. One of them happens to get a girl ...more
Feb 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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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“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
“I, who had always prided myself on my ability to accept the fallacy of love, with all my commas, parentheses, and qualified statements, felt love grab me violently by the back of the neck and fling me straight into her arms. This blooming helplessness, which flooded me to my teeth, made me feel a lot of things, but mostly, it made me feel like a girl.” 1 likes
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