And Then They All Died by Andrew Stanek is accurately described in its subtitle, A Dark Comedy With No Survivors. Published in 2018 with 280 pages in thirty-six chapters plus the only horoscope you will ever need, this book is a free read through Kindle Unlimited or for sale at USD 0.99. The story is not a novel I would read with Kindle Unlimited because I want to keep the book. One of the few books I will look for in paperback, it is a keeper. For fans of humor, extreme humor, dark humor, and unbelievable depths reached with its puns, this book is a gold mine (there is also abundant use of clichés). It is an excellent example of collected snark. The novel is either howling-out-loud funny or a hard look at the warped mind of Andrew Stanek. I voted option A.
I found no trigger warnings necessary for the book, but there is one for this review. For the strict Grammar Nazis out there, I purposely butcher grammar rules and conventions to make a point. It amuses me. I am not quite as bad as the following writing indicates.
Even the Table of Contents for this novel is funny on the surface. Somehow you know that Chapter 7: The Complete List of Even Numbers is not going to be a complete list. You can only hope not. Chapter 18: Walt Disney’s Uncensored Testimony Before the House Un-American Activities Committee is not really about Uncle Walt. This pattern goes beyond just examining the list that is the Table of Contents on its surface. Here is an item of interest I will claim to be accurate, and I maintain is not a spoiler. The chapter titles have nothing to do with what is in the chapter. That takes care of the beginning of each chapter.
Let’s move on to the end of each chapter. Again, I claim this comment is not a spoiler. Each chapter ends with the same line. “And then they all died.” (ref. = the end of any chapter). What takes place between the irrelevant chapter title and the absolute, unequivocal last line of each chapter? A lot of fun, laughs, horrible puns, snark, and twists on overused clichés repeated again over and over. Unbelievable characters abound to exaggerate all that is extreme in friends you love to hate.
All actions (and sometimes inactions) revolve around Thomas Norm Truman. There is no better way to describe Thomas and this story than with this quote from Chapter One. “Today was the day that the whole world and everything in it, including lions and tigers, the birds and the bees, cops and robbers, the boy scouts and the AARP, even dogs, cats, and some of the more pioneering snails, would try to kill him. Even I want him dead, and I’m the narrator. Later in the day, Thomas would meet up with some of his friends and face this challenge together. And then they all died.” (Kindle loc 79).
Notice that last line. You will see it about thirty-six more times. Also, note the line “I’m the narrator.” There is more than one external narrator because as the novel progresses, the reader will note that aside from the definitive last line of each chapter, the same core characters keep showing up in succeeding chapters. The surprise calls for a replacement of the external narrator based on reader expressions of disappointment in outside narrators who don’t keep their promise. Readers should never fear, though. There will always be an external narrator to look after reader interest and break into the storyline with asides at inopportune moments.
The entire story revolves around attempts by Thomas to recover his wallet, one stolen from him by a pickpocket. To do this, Thomas will enlist the help of several friends such as Mal Nox, a sociopath who has formed his own customer service representative business. Mal lives to handle complaints from anyone about anything. Some of his advice might not be the best such as when he advised a person with a Pacemaker device to reboot it. Clients who expired shielded Max from lawsuits. If Max were ever sued, another friend from this happy crew, a lawyer, Kevin Kyle Atlaw, would help. Kevin suffered from undisclosed narcolepsy, but despite this in his role as a criminal and civil defense lawyer, Kevin had an unbroken conviction record.
The trio lives in the city of Big Mistake, Oregon, where politics are illegal. There is a zero-tolerance city policy, and practicing politics is punishable by death. The regulation makes elections of officials impossible, so a Texas Instruments pocket calculator runs the city. The calculator divided the city into boroughs, one of which is Big Bones. Inhabited by the most massive people anywhere in the US the TI calculator instituted a ban on bacon as a corrective measure. Possessing bacon is punishable by death. The city has other boroughs such as Big Mistake, the district for all schools. Big Mistake is the home of the Big Mistake Institute for Higher Specious Reasoning. From there developed the idea that there was no reason to educate students and they were on their own. The policy produced a high number of street poets which caused the Calculator to ban poetry. Big Ideas prohibited poetry on penalty of death.
Big Mistake’s Financial Section is known as Big Money. Formerly “The largest private employers in the city were organ markets, orphanages, and gravediggers.” (Kindle loc 774). But Big Money recovered somewhat and found its way. “It’s now at the cutting edge of the new high tech boom, pioneering innovative ideas, like the catapult-launched bible, for salvation on the go; the explosive refrigerator, to destroy all your bacon before the authorities find it; the disposable house, for temporary residences; speaking lessons for mimes, to help the shy find their voice; and edible machine guns, for the hungry soldier.” (Kindle location 779).
Finally, there is “Big Mistake’s downtrodden, rough slum district, Big Shame. Many of the people in Big Shame are so poor that they’re forced to use live alpacas for housing, shelter, and grief counseling.” (Kindle location 789). Later, the narrator will “discuss the other boroughs, like Big Game, Big Lie, Big Hurt, Big Alpaca, Cancer-Upon-Racism, and the state of Idaho as they become relevant.” (Kindle location 799).
All items described above are in the first six chapters. The only difficulty in getting through this novel is getting past the paroxysms of laughter. The book deserves five Amazon stars even though it is not a page-turner. I find humor this dark, extreme, and culture referenced cannot be read all at once. I will look for more novels by Andrew Stanek.
I was surprised by the reviews on Amazon. There was almost an equal number of five-star and one-star ratings. I occasionally look at reviews of others after I have written mine. The one-star comments for this book made me feel bad. I felt I should go back to school and somehow attempt to upgrade my appreciation of what is considered worthy of publication. Instead, I’ll probably just stop reading one-star reviews. This book is funny.