The Short Version: Kimberly Clark should be happy with her life and with her boyfriend but she isn’t – just the way the cookie crumbles. So she sets out to make him break up with her but, it seems, it only leads him to suicide. She takes a big swing in the opposite direction, aiming for unadulterated altruism – but that just gets her screwed in several meanings of the term. Then, you get to pick what happens when she dies!
The Review: Okay, the gimmick is great. With the dice-roll, ‘choose-your-own-ending’ thing. It’s a moment of hilarity that sort of feels like the whole reason the book was written. Which, when you think about it that way, might be a problem…
I’ll give you some full disclosure here: I did not read all of the endings. Despite the completist nudge in the back of my mind, I did it proper-like. Well, almost: I rolled a die and got an ending that was interminable in its construction (two simultaneous streams of story running in parallel columns) and so I rolled again and this time sent Kimberly to Hell. Seeing as she wasn’t a terrific human being (despite, you know, trying hard), I was content with this decision and so I read that ending. And found it… fine. As though the author had come up with this gimmick and built the whole book around it and nothing on either side of that moment really lives up to the moment itself. I could’ve been proved wrong about this by reading the other endings, but… why would I want to? It wasn’t the sort of book where I was hanging on Milward’s every word – those other endings, so far as I am concerned, can remain unknown to me. Kimberly’s life happened, that’s how it played out, and I’m done thanks very much.
The thing is, Milward is not untalented. He’s got a smart-aleck tone that’s fun to read and all of his characters seem larger than life in an almost cartoonish way – and I mean that as a compliment. When Kimberly sets out to date several men at once, she ends up (totally well-meaningly) sleeping with most of them… but we never know (most of) their names except “Mr. Day-of-the-Week” and a scene at a restaurant where they all come to confront her is… it’s hilarious, despite its strangeness. Even when she agrees to have sex with the homeless drunk she’s befriended, there’s a strange humor to the proceedings – although they were a BIT much and retrospectively the amount of violent sex feels just a little… unnecessary, perhaps. Because it is not sexy, at all, and so that’s… well, I guess that’s the problem with writing about sex but that’s neither here nor there.
I will say that I was hoping for a bit more of something else in this novel. When I picked it up on a whim at the Piccadilly Waterstones (sorry, did we ever come to a conclusion on the apostrophe or no apostrophe?) last year, I did so mainly because of the witty cover and the intriguing synopsis. And seeing as this girl was born on Halloween and the book starts with the discovery of a severed eyeball, I was expecting… I don’t know, just more. More creepy stuff, more seasonally appropriate stuff. After all, that’s why I saved it for October – it felt like it’d be the right choice. Instead, the weirdest bit really comes at the same time as the best bit: when the Grim Reaper shows up drunk and incites the dice roll. Even the super-meta moment of him calling out to the reader plays so well and it feels so right and I wondered, honestly, why Milward couldn’t have done a whole book that played more with the meta. There were moments – textual diversions, interesting formatting, etc… but it never quite FELT like a proper meta experience, instead just sort of gesturing in that direction.
Rating: 3 out of 5. Fully an extra star for the gusto and gumption of the gimmick – otherwise, the book is sort of disappointing and whatever. The whole thing never quite gets off the ground, even though Kimberly’s twisted story is entertaining enough and there’s admittedly a good dose of “wtf” hilarity (rapist seals, that’s all I’ll say). Instead, it felt very much like a novel written out of an idea for a gimmick as opposed to a novel that then led into said gimmick. Not a bad thing, per se, but it doesn’t do a lot to recommend it.