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The Last Days of Jack Sparks

Topics/tags: Reviews, short

While I was on vacation, I read a few books. One of the first books I read was The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp. I’m not sure why I bought the book. Okay, that’s not quite true. I know why I bought the book. It was on sale for $2.99 on Kindle and it had been on my want list. So what I’m not quite sure about is why it was on my want list. In particular, it’s a horror novel, which is not generally a genre I read [1].

My guess is that it ended up on my list of potential things to read because it’s a style of fiction I enjoy; something that claims to be a found manuscript with additional annotations. I like the concept of books with additional meta stories, as it were [2]. How did I learn about it? I must have read a review somewhere [3]. Ah! I found the likely culprit; a New York Times collection of reviews of recent fantasy and science fiction [4]. The review notes that,

this story is hyperbolic, a hypertextual mingling of narrative with epistolary text messages and emails, transcribed interviews, fourth-wall-breaking notes and other interruptions involving the hapless editors, agents and roommates who have to put up with Jack.

Yeah, that sounds like something I’d add to my to read list. I think the reviews also commented on the humor, which is something I appreciate in my meta-fiction.

The story is about Jack Sparks, a somewhat Hunter Thompson-esque literary who gets way too involved in what he writes about. His last book was about drug cultures. And yes, he seems to have tried them all. This manuscript is about his explorations of the occult, explorations that primarily come from his stance as a non-believer. But we encouter scene after scene after scene in which it seems like the occult may be real.

I did not find the majority of the book all that scary; perhaps I’ve just been desensitized by modern society. But it was engaging and a fun read. Then came the epilogue, written as a commentary on the primary manuscript by the author’s estranged brother. It provided enough back story about some unexplained things earlier in the book that, if taken at face value, made it much more terrifying, at least to me. Reading the postscript almost makes me want to read the whole thing, just to encounter the book with that additional context in mind. We’ll see if I find the time.

All in all, I found that The Last Days of Jack Sparks was a successful version of a form of story I enjoy. There was less of the meta writing than I’d like, but what was there worked well, particularly at the end. And, throughout, the story kept me engaged. It wasn’t as funny as I’d expected, but there were some bits of humor.

I’d recommend it as a light read, at least if you like horror.

Postscript: You know those reviews that are less about the work being reviewed and more about the reviewer? Yeah, I think this is one of those. That’s okay. You can read the review in The New York Times. Perhaps my notes provide some useful information. Perhaps not.

[1] Back when Michelle lived in Maine and I lived in New Hampshire, I’d listen to Steven King novels during the long drives back and forth. But I’ve read few horror novels since then.

[2] I wanted to say I like books with additional meta stories. However, my experience with such books is mixed. While I like the concept in the abstract, there are certainly times in which I find that it does not work out well in practice.

[3] I don’t read all that many reviews. I try to keep up with the Charles de Lint column in Fantasy and Science Fiction, although I must admit that I’ve fallen behind on that. I sometimes read the Books section of The New York Times.

[4] The review also explains why Peter S. Beagle’s Summerlong is on my books to look for list; I thought Amazon was just confused about the Dean Bakopoulos book I’d added to my list [5].

[5] Which reminds me ….

Version 1.0 of 2018-07-10.