Death and other Taxes: Part 1 by Robby Miller

At its heart, this book is about Wit’s, a young boy, journey through the land of death after his untimely demise. It’s an interesting premise to launch an examination of death from, especially in that it focuses on the dead, rather than the living, but severe problems with the pacing, coherency, and writing render the book unfathomable, rather than intriguing.

Before I start running through what didn’t work, I do want to make it clear that I am personally not a big fan of allegories, and I consider books like Pilgrim’s Progress to be an exquisite form of torture conjured up by high school teachers to punish students for daring to enjoy the written word. I have a special place in my heart for Chaucer, but even then just particular stories. So, take what follows with a grain of salt.

First, the pace of the book is that of an abstract meander. There’s no sense of urgency to drive the plot forward. Wit’s primary goal is to live again, but he essentially has all of the time in the world to do it. On top of that, he spends most of the book confused and learning life lessons. There are long dialogues about why people act the way they do, about the balance of power in the world, about poverty.

Each one of these is an issue worthy of examination, but they’re presented back to back with very little to break them up. There are periodic bursts of forced adventure, but it always rings hollow simply because what danger exists is of the generally vague, trippy sort that never quite clicked with me as legitimately threatening.

In short, the book itself is a vehicle for a series of allegorical stories connected by Wit’s curiosity and the various ways he tries to make it back to the world of the living. This in itself isn’t a problem, but the stories themselves are so indecipherably dense that it took a force of will for me to turn from one page to the next. Also, the material connecting them was so bizarre that I really couldn’t latch onto anything to orient myself.

Coherency is a big problem in this book. It demands a level of attention from the reader that’s usually reserved for discussing the vagaries German administrative agencies and the obscene alphabet soup they generate. Most of the time, I simply couldn’t read through even one paragraph quickly. I had to stop, frown, and puzzle my way through.

That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing, in moderation, but almost every paragraph was its own logic problem to be worked out, and over the course of a book, that’s an extreme amount of work to subject a casual or even focused reader to. I never felt like the author didn’t know what he was talking about, but I often got the sense that he didn’t particularly care if I followed him. The best analogy I can offer is that I felt like a ten year old having string theory explained to him in terms of mathematical proofs.

The author tried to cover too much ground in too small a space and without enough explanation, and as a result it made parts of the book almost unreadable for me. Again, this is also a type of book that I am already not the fondest of, but even so, this book was a particularly difficult example of the genre for me to process and enjoy. I didn’t feel like I had a reasonable grasp of what was really being discussed until the last chapter, and as a reader I simply couldn’t bring myself to do the work needed to follow the author’s train of thought from start to finish.

The writing style compounds this problem. The author relies on puns, word play, and alliteration to the point that I was walking on the walls. None of these things are bad when used in moderation, but the torrent of them in this book vastly exceeded the amount I could comfortably enjoy.

The way the author puts together the basic sentences seems intentionally designed to go over the reader’s head, even without the issues mentioned above, and he seems perfectly willing to adopt his own language and force the reader to either learn it or remain perpetually befuddled.

An example: “‘Well these mushrooms are growing all over the show,’” said Wit with superfluous eloquence. ‘Maybe they all weep if you poke ‘em?’ And he walked to the next to indulge his elegantly satisfying theory of elephants and fish for tea.”

This is the sort of book that the path to enlightenment in a land of oatmeal would be called the Whey, with those upon it carrying the Wait of their sins, while trying to avoid falling Weigh Down into the Wrong-Way Sea.

Add to this a few instances of missing quotation marks, periods, commas, and the like, and reading the book was a vexing exercise that left me feeling drained after a handful of pages.

All of this is tragic, because there are a lot of interesting, valid messages in this book, and the framework itself is one that could work quite well. And towards the end, I was able to see the book the author meant it to be. Even then, it never got there, but the last segment started to present things in a way that were more readily grasped.

Ultimately, this book tried to do something very interesting, and the surreal world the author tries to present could have been truly fascinating. Poor pacing, a tendency to jump onto any opportunity to confound the reader, and excessive word play rendered large swathes of the book almost unreadable and incredibly frustrating. I give it a 1/5.

If you want to give it a gander, and check out the book page to see what some other reviewers think, I’d suggest checking it out on Amazon here.

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