Category: Greg Baxter

book review – A Preparation for Death – Greg Baxter

“I have always dreamed of a book with a last chapter that was unnecessary, that went on too long, that took place somewhere else, with other people, and left the old story to flap about in the breeze. I am not in search of a self. I am leaving one behind. I plan to cast the self who came here into oblivion – the author of this book, who has nothing more to say.”

The best way of describing this is that it is akin to strapping yourself into a rollercoaster and heading off for a journey at speed with some ups and downs and some bits that are just plain disturbing.

A prologue explains that the author, a journalist with little job satisfaction and a creative writing teacher, was heading for death on a cocktail of cigarettes, late nights and alcohol. he set out to write down stories about his life as some sort of cleansing exercise almost as a last will and testament of his belief in his talent.

With one book under his belt, which had never been published and a second he hadn’t even bothered to try and get accepted, Baxter was clearly heading nowhere fast.

There are broadly two types of stories in this book, which feels like a short story collection built around the central theme of the writer trying to emerge despite everyone including himself giving up on him. the stories that work better are those about his background in Texas and his family. The story of his attempts to make it at a Southern writers conference and the off behavior of his parents are written with great insight. As are the chapters covering his search for his European family history and the final chapter set in Vienna with his relations.

the chapters that don’t work so well are those dealing with his life and existence in Dublin. On occasions the descriptions leak into pornographic magazine territory with candid descriptions of his sexual antics. His loathing for his job is funny, particularly if you share his views on that subject, but the slide into self destruction is perhaps a bit too strained after a while.

The idea that this is a series of stories, thoughts and a life being described before it ends just about holds it together. what will be more interesting is what comes next because having proved to the world he can write what will Baxter do next for his theme? I suspect the idea of sitting down and writing when he is very much alive will produce something that is perhaps more rounded than this and that will be a book worth looking forward to.

Thoughts at the half way point of A Preparation for Death

There are some things that really chime with me with this book. Firstly the author is stuck on a trade magazine dreaming of better things. Secondly he wants to turn his dreams and energies into becoming a writer.

But the results so far are a bit up and down. This reads like a collection of short stories that are occasionally echoes of things that have gone before because of the characters popping up again. But the result of the short story collection nature of it is that of course some chapters stand out more than others.

Where Baxter is strong is in describing his attempts to emerge as a writer back in Texas before he moved to Dublin. The action set in Dublin is where some of those dreams have hit the buffers so the tone is darker.

But as he explains in his preamble this book in a way saved his life, showed him just what was possible and how he could make it as a writer, so possibly the second half will have a rather more upbeat tone.

Review to follow soonish…