THE CARDBOARD UNIVERSE by Christopher Miller


A Guide to the World of Phoebus K. Dank
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Everything you always wanted to know about a terrible writer.

Expanding on the premise of his first novel (Sudden Noises From Inanimate Objects, 2004), which purported to be CD liner notes discussing the oeuvre of a cranky composer, Miller here offers a putative guide to the works of one Phoebus K. Dank. A prolific author of low-grade sci-fi novels and stories, Dank crafted consistently mediocre prose and predictable plots, which didn’t keep him from being published, or from attracting a few hard-core fans. One member of this group is Bill Boswell, a professor of “Dank Studies” at a small college in California. This novel is Boswell’s magnum opus, an A-to-Z encyclopedia of all Dank-related matters: his curious shorthand for much-used phrases (“cdcswffc=at the CDC, scientists were working feverishly to find a cure”), his efforts to hire assistants to write novels in assembly-line fashion, his busted marriages, weight issues, etc. One of Dank’s biggest bêtes noires was his longtime housemate Owen Hirt, who inserts entries of his own throughout. (Curiously, Hirt is identified as Dank’s murderer early on.) Boswell and Hirt don’t merely trade entries; they exchange swipes, bitter retorts and threats amid arguments over the value of Dank’s collected works. Their verbal food fights in the footnotes give the text some narrative drive, and in time the story darkens and deepens, calling into question in interesting ways the motivations and identities of the dueling authors. But Miller has set himself a high hurdle by structuring the narrative around an encyclopedia, and the book often feels exceedingly overstuffed with repetitive, arcana-filled entries.

A novel about authorship and unreliable narrators that too often loses its own plot.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-168636-8
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2009


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