From the beginning, it’s clear that Please Laugh at my Funeral is setting out to be an investigation of the very base of human consciousness- of the lengths that one will go to when there is nothing left. It’s a lofty idea, to explore the most primitive wants and needs of a person with no responsibilities and no ties- not even to life. This promising theme is explored as Steve, a formerly depressed and suicidal twenty-something fresh out of a relationship with her, fired from his job, and evicted, decides after a failed suicide attempt that he will continue the sad pains of existence for just thirty more days. Thirty days to live to the fullest, before ending his life. Dying to live. The idea is poetic, romantic and appealing.
“Dying to live” seems like the perfect motto of Generation X. Filled with Pinterest pinners throwing down quotes about leaving tomorrow to Wanderlust about the globe, mixing new cocktails that are nothing more than vodka and a mélange of drugs, believing that life is only worth living if one fulfills every one of their self interests, those are the ideas of Generation X. And those are the ideas conveyed in this novel.
The concept is so promising that the slow unveiling of the plot in the first few chapters seems to offer a snapshot of a generation. Unfortunately, this powerful idea to describe a generation of people, of modern day society in which we live to fulfill ourselves and no one else, suffers almost immediately, as crude humor and vaguely underdeveloped action overtake the plot.
In the first of one of many escapades, Steve makes his way to the local zoo with his only friend, Frank, only to scream at a baby to shut up. It’s relatable and grotesque all at the same time. It’s the unveiling of our inner impulses, to give away the requirements of society and for once scream our minds to the unsuspecting victims that may cross our path.
The humanity that is unveiled in scenes like this describes both Steve and Generation X, and, while disturbing, enriches the plot, which other times falters through its vague descriptions of scenery, and lacking dialogue.
Written almost as a journal entry from each day in the month leading up to Steve’s planned death, the book is written as a third-person narrative. And perhaps that’s what Please Laugh at My Funeral is missing. The third-person makes the story feel cold and emotionless, a superficial investigation of a series of pop culture events that are clichéd.
In the course of a month, Steve and Frank manage to explore every contemporary issue of our society, from homosexuality to a skirt with religion that ends in a day, to blackmailing, to death by pills, to social media frenzies, to addicts and grungy underground clubs. Loaded with every grimy pop culture reference that could fit into the pages, none of the adventures that Steve and Frank embark on have the depth nor the reflection to make a meaningful impact on the reader.
While the concept is immensely moving and powerful, the problem with the story is that it is perhaps too Generation X: it is self-fulfilling for Steve, but it leaves everyone else wanting more than the superficial plot riddled with questions, that, instead of intriguing the reader, merely create distance and confusion from the plot.
In the first few chapters of the story, Steve admits to a love interest he met earlier in the day, “It’s the finality of it. We are scared of our own deaths.”
Yet Steve is fatalistically committed to killing himself after living for one month, unafraid of death, perhaps because in this time he manages to complete all of the most clichéd extravagances of the twentieth century.
Without requiring emotional investment, Please Laugh at my Funeral is easy to get through, a quick read if you’re willing to be left wanting, not by the ending, but by many of the pages.
Number of Pages: 227
Recommended For: a commute, a plane ride
Enjoy it With: Zoloft, Shiner Bock
For fans of: Generation X, video games, pop culture, Andy Warhol
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