Review: “Before We Die Alone,” Ike Hamill

Rating: 4 out of 5

Oh boy. I’m not even sure how to start describing Ike Hamill’s Before We Die Alone. Dennis is a programmer, hardware guy, and project lead. He also has a friend named Adam who talks to him through the grating in the wall of his house, and a black bear at a zoo spoke to him once. One day Adam suggests he get a job with a company called puzzleBox that’s just around the corner from his home. Dennis goes in, and ends up going for coffee with his interviewer, Janice. At the coffee shop he’s attacked by the same bear who talked to him at the zoo. Meanwhile, there’s an asteroid coming that has roughly a 60% chance of hitting the earth and destroying all life. Apparently the bears could have deflected it, but they voted, and decided it was time for humanity to die. The black bear claims he voted for the humans, but a big ol’ brown bear says the black bear is a felon and thus can’t vote.

“We’re supposed to be neutral about the fate of worlds like this.”

Dennis seems to accept these things with remarkable equanimity, which lends itself to an intriguing character and whimsical feel. There are bears on the moon, there are guys running around in the city naked with spears, there are chimps, apes, and gorillas living on another planet, and Dennis eventually learns how to “fold,” allowing him to travel in strange ways. There’s a blueberry heist (he needs lots of blueberries to trade for information from the black bear).

There are some things that never get dealt with. Why was there a tiny heart wired into a computer chip? What was the deal with people saying Dennis had “the mark” after he got clawed in the chest? Was Hamill on acid when he wrote this book? It gets more and more surreal as it goes.

One oddity that I didn’t entirely like was that Dennis sometimes broke into the story with the phrase “For clarity” followed by an explanation of some everyday thing like cell phones, programming, football, cars, TV, relationships, DVRs, newspapers, and shoelace-tying. If you read the author’s notes after the book you find out this is supposed to be a sort of memoir, but there’s no indication of that when you’re reading the book. So I guess it kind of makes sense in that context, but there are times in the book where it happens all too often. Also, I think one time he may have said one of them out loud, because another person comments on his shoelace-tying narration. There’s just little sense to what he feels he needs to explain, and what he doesn’t.

This book is worth reading if just for the sheer weirdness factor. There’s so much I want to comment on, but I don’t want to spoil all the bizarre hijinks.

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