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OBLIVION by Robin Hemley Kirkus Star


An After Autobiography

by Robin Hemley

Pub Date: June 1st, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-63752-781-8
Publisher: Gold Wake Press

Good news, fiction fans—there's autofiction, fabulism, literary biography, and even Yiddish theater in the afterlife.

“The afterlife, it seemed,” reports the narrator of this book, who is called ________ or sometimes ________ ________ but definitely resembles Hemley himself, “was not unlike the annual Associated Writing Programs Conference, full of smart, unfulfilled people such as me.” Elsewhere described as “footnotes having a get-together,” this is the Café of Minor Authors, aka Oblivion, where poor________ has landed after a massive heart attack at 62. Minutes after receiving word from his agent that the auction for his new book was “in the stratosphere,” he got a second notification: “_______, I’M SO SO SORRY. That was meant for another client.” Oof. So much for that mortal coil. But who does ________ find is his guide in the beyond but a “jovial boor” named Jozef whom he knew in his 20s in Chicago when both worked at a literary magazine. Jozef shows him how to order a cappuccino, where the library is, and how the dead can haunt history, returning to scenes in the lives of their heroes. Off they go to Prague to visit ________’s beloved Kafka, who, it turns out, was briefly acquainted with his great-grandmother Hanna, an actress in the Yiddish theater. Hemley has lots of fun with the details of these ghostly visits: “I was too shy to sit in Kafka’s lap, as it were (a sentence I never imagined myself writing before this), so I sat on the chair beside him where Brod had placed his hat.” A mostly hilarious mashup of real incidents and characters from Hemley’s career, historical fact, and giddy fantasy, the novel also has moments of real sorrow and poignancy. For example, _________ can’t encounter figures of the early 20th century without recalling which were to perish at which concentration camp—all three of Kafka’s sisters, for example. And in the end, it’s about how to live—and die—with frustrated ambitions and still have a pretty good time.

The best kind of shaggy dog story, delightful in every particular.