Hard as it may be to believe, Die Empty by Kirk Jones is kind of dark. The novel centers on an insurance broker named Lance whose recent acquisition of the entire Masters of the Universe toy line has failed to brighten the onset of middle age or his sneaking and well-founded suspicion that his wife is having an affair with his best friend and next-door neighbor, Dave. Complicating matters is the fact that Death—dressed in his traditional dark hood—has entered Lance’s life and offered him a deal he can’t refuse: a guarantee of forty more years in exchange for a lifetime of imagining creative new ways to help Death increase his body count. And, it turns out, the job is fraught with complications.
The humor throughout Die Empty is extremely dry, and the narrative arc follows a weirdness curve that can only be described as exponential. Things don’t just get curiouser and curiouser. They go bat-shit crazy in a David Lynch kind of way. Indeed, Jones’s blending of the mundane and the bizarre gives Die Empty the feeling of a cross between a film like Blue Velvet and a George Saunders story. That Jones narrates the story in second-person adds a layer of creepy intimacy to the proceedings. Imagine, for example, being told that you’re not only working for Death and passively plotting to kill your wife, but also that you’re into a category of entertainment labeled “nun porn” and that a man with no pants named Gerald (who happens to be leading you to an abandoned cabin in the woods) may or may not be your father, and you’ll get a sense of the position Jones is putting you in when you sit down to read this novel.
As strange as it is, Die Empty is extremely accessible, and Jones proves himself an author with a penchant for oddness that allows him to explore the meaning of life in a world that often seems designed with only death in mind.
Shelf Unbound Contributing Editor Marc Schuster is the author of The Grievers, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl, Don DeLillo, Jean Baudrillard, and the Consumer Conundrum, and, with Tom Powers, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: The Discerning Fan’s Guide to Doctor Who. He is the editor of Small Press Reviews, and his work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals. Marc teaches writing and literature courses at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.