It's time for
another installment of the Book Rat Project, the sustained experiment in which
a book critic (my Phoenix
colleague Eugenia Williamson) attempts to act
as a human algorithm for a willing subject (me).
This time around
Eugenia picked Sorry Please Thank
by Charles Yu. She picked this one based on my love of Kurt Vonnegut and some
solid blurbs from the IO9 community (she knows I’m a fan of the site).
So how did she do?
She knocked it out
of the park.
In Sorry Please Thank
any unpleasant experience can be avoided, for a price; two night-shift workers at
a big-box store—post zombie outbreak—manage to overcome their fear of intimacy;
a band of MMORPG players discover what they’re willing to sacrifice for each
other, and for enlightenment. These are some of the tamer adventures; there’s
also a prose-poem instructing would-be users on a machine that grants wishes, and
what might be best described as a meditation on the fictional implications of
the Incompleteness Theorem.
And while the
concepts drew me in, it was the characters that kept me reading. From the man
that’s paid to experience the grief of others, to the author of a manual on
dealing with immediate family members, to the yeomen whose only job is to die
so the captain will have something to report, every character is confronting an
unvarnished, chaotic, and often, heart-breaking universe that would make little
sense if not for the people that inhabit and endure its odd landscapes. Some
have compared Yu to Douglas Adams, but I don’t think that’s quite right. Yu’s
universe, while just as strange and subject to improbabilities, is ultimately a
darker place to visit, more Twilight Zone
than Doctor Who.
comparisons, though it feels a little hyperbolic to say, might be made with
Vonnegut’s more pessimistic novels, books like Cat’s
Dick, and Timequake.
With Sorry Please Thank
Yu has achieved something rare: an aggressively imagined work of fiction in
which the concepts (mostly) serve the characters. Pick it up and kiss your
The Book Rat Letter Grade: A-
-- Charles Yu will be reading at Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, August 1st