Saturday, February 16, 2013

Erica's Infrequent Book Reviews Presents: MIXTAPE FOR THE APOCALYPSE by Jemiah Jefferson

Mixtape for the Apocalypse by Jemiah Jefferson
Self-published (but why??)
Available for Kindle, Nook, and in paperback

Mid-90s Portland twentysomething Michael Bronwynn Squire's been having some problems. His roommate moves in her lunk of a boyfriend against his will. He's failing at both his jobs. His underground comix career is going nowhere. He's just started a romantic relationship with his best friend Lise. And then he starts receiving covert messages from Echo & the Bunnymen songs, and things start going from "kooky 90s romantic comedy wacky" to Walter Bishop-level insanity.

So you know how a lot of people say that it feels like books are written just for them? I find that annoying and self-centered. And yet, that's the feeling I had when reading Mixtape for the Apocalypse. These are characters I know, these are situations eerily similar to ones I lived when I was myself a twentysomething living with friends in another city that begins with a P. I've been, at different times, both Squire and Lise. So I guess I'll just have to be one of those losers whose reaction to a book is based largely on personal history. At least Mixtape is a better book than Generic YA Fantasy Dreck. (Aside: when I looked for reviews of this on Goodreads, to see what other people thought before I wrote my own review -- this book is criminally under-reviewed -- it recommended a bunch of YA dystopia novels. This is why I don't use Goodreads, people.)

After a framing chapter, Mixtape is split between Squire's increasingly madness-driven journal entries and straight narrative, with the latter subsiding once he makes the move into Lise's spacious walk-in closet and doesn't interact with anything outside of his own head. (Aside Part Two: this is probably a side effect of reading on a Kindle, but I sometimes found it hard to tell where the "journal" part of the story ended and the "past reminiscences as told by present-day Squire" began. Not sure if the paper-book version has different fonts or italics or anything; I don't think you can mix fonts in Kindle editions. This isn't anything that hurt the experience of reading the book for me, more of a "I wish there was a better way to show this on Kindle" whine.) While I hate the idea of calling something a "breezy read" because it makes me think of popcorn fiction -- which Mixtape definitely isn't -- it reads fast and compelling. Jefferson's prose flows smooth as crazy butter. I read it in less than two days, stopping all other in-progress books to finish it.

Though the characters and place descriptions give a grounding of realism to the book (oh Portland, someday I will live in you!), what really takes this book from good to awesome is Squire's breakdown, the way it goes from being something just hinted at around the edges to full-on batshit, yet it never feels like a left turn, never feels like something thrust on the character from the outside. There are few books that come close to realistically depicting what it's like to have a nervous breakdown, because it's only one of those things that you can write if you've lived it, and most readers who have not had nervous breakdowns don't know the difference between a good depiction and a bad one. Voices from the Street by Philip K. Dick is one that I can recommend even though it's one of his more misogynist works (it's not genre fiction, either). I don't know whether Jefferson has lived through these experiences herself, but to my trained eye, Squire's breakdown feels legit. What really nails it are the touches of humor, like this line: "They don't show TV, which is good, but they do show static, which is good." Classic. Also the kind of inspired lines you really do come up with when you've been up for over a day, high on caffeine.

In closing, Mixtape for the Apocalypse is one of the best books I've read in months and well worth your $2.99. I also hope Jefferson writes, if not a sequel, at least more books in this vein. My highest possible recommendation!

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