Amy Corwin's Reviews > The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston
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's review
Feb 06, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: mystery
Read in January, 2009

"The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death" is one of those books I would classify as a guilty pleasure. When discussing fiction with other intellectuals, I would probably disclaim all knowledge of this book. But privately, I LOVED IT and will most assuredly be buying more books by Huston.

This is not the kind of novel a 15-year-old girl should admit to reading, especially to her parents. (And no, I don't fit into that category.) It is also not the kind of novel one would expect a fifty-something professional woman to be reading. (And I'll never admit to fitting into that category, either.) In fact, I can't think of anyone who could comfortably admit to reading this book to any member of his/her family. Unless the reader is homeless and has no family members who can read.

But to restate: I loved this book.

Any book that begins with the hero engaged in an argument about who is the bigger jerk (except not using that term) is, well, it's funny. I know it should not be, but it is. It may be juvenile, but I can't help loving a character who can smart-mouth someone while they are kicking the heck out them.

So I should start by saying, this book is not for you if...
If you find swearing offensive.
If the thought of exploding bodies fills you with disgust.
If sick, cynical humor doesn't tickle your funny bone.
If you can't stand to read books with experimental punctuation.
Or if you don't find yourself laughing at hopelessly inappropriate moments. (This is a terrible fault of mine that I can't seem to control.)

This book is not for the faint of heart, or the remorselessly, politically correct. Or those who insist the normal rules of grammar be followed.

"The Mystic Arts..." is about those marginal characters you see hanging around in the alleys behind tattoo parlors. People who cling to the fringes of Society and are so often ignored and passed by (in a hurry) by People Who Have A Real Job. So if the lost, the marginal, and the dysfunctional disturb you, then again, this is not the book for you.

But did I mention that I love this book?

It is not, however, without flaws. But the storytelling is so excellent, and you are so drawn into Web's woes and concerns that the flaws, such as they are, don't really matter. This is a brilliant piece of fiction, consisting almost entirely of dialog, that dramatically reveals Web's life at the point of transformation.

But there was a flaw.
There exists a certain set of authors who believe our rules for punctuation and grammar are not good enough. They insist on creating their own rules. (I read a great deal of experimental fiction, so I am not speaking from an uneducated, "never-seen-this-before" perspective.) They believe this enhances the immediacy of their work. Or whatever they believe in their supreme over-confidence.

They are always wrong.

Perhaps Huston believes his system makes the dialog "more real". I did not find this to be the case. It merely made it annoying. I liked the book in spite of this, not because of it.

In fact, although I got the hang of his punctuation after a couple of pages, there were several places where I had no idea. I reread a few sections three or four times and never really figured out which character was saying what.

Note, however: I loved it despite, not because of, the peculiar punctuation and grammar. The bizarre punctuation did not help. In fact, it hindered.


So anyway, in order to present a useful review of "The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death" I read a few of the other criticisms. If at all possible, I wanted to present some new perspective to help potential buyers make the ultimate decision to plunk down their hard earned money.

Some reviewers remarked about what they considered to be a meandering, slow-to-start plot. I have to disagree with this, vehemently. Yes, it might seem that way if you only consider plot to be external events and "stuff" that happens to a character. Web, the main character, is initially occupied with sleeping and sponging off his best friend.

But there is a huge transformation taking place, and that is the real plot. Web is crawling out of his comfortable stasis. He is forced to come to terms with his situation and life. While action-wise he spends an inordinate amount of time having extremely funny and snarky conversations with a variety of people, beneath it all, it is about his character transformation.

He gets a job and realizes he actually wants to work. He wants to face life again instead of sleeping 18 hours out of 24. And we see this process in all its quirky, funny glory as he begins to work, finds himself in a relationship, and is forced out of his shell. We find out about past traumas and what it takes to overcome the inertia of shock and grief.

It is not all about external events/action and the mystery he stumbles into on his path to recovery. (If you can call his eventual state recovery. I think you can, but maybe I'm weird.)

Anyway, as with any good novel, once Web starts to try to re-enter the world, all sorts of bad things happen to him. Hence the mystery aspect.
So I have to agree that the first part has very little external action, i.e. people beating up on him. But it is what it has to be.

In the end, I was enthralled and jazzed by this book.

Web was endearing and funny. His predicament was so agonizing that I could not stop reading it. And despite the exploding bodies and gore and things I know I should not laugh at, I read it with a stupid smile on my face and laughter bubbling at the back of my throat.

It's insanely sick and yet, insanely good.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by JuliAnna (new)

JuliAnna I love this review. I don't think I have ever read a more entertaining review. So, I went over to Amazon and read your blog about rejection letters and revisions. And, I found more insightful and entertaining prose. I don't know what your novels are like, but if you ever write a book of nonfiction, I'm definitely buying it.

ღ Carol jinx~☆~ DEfinitely interests me, now. Love the review.

message 3: by Tony (new)

Tony My experience has taught me that if you consider yourself an 'intellectual' you know either a lot about very little or little about everything; either way, not one to take advice from. I was going to read this but think ill pass.

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