By Alle C. Hall
Rebecca Brown once told me that she wanted sentences to so capture her that she had to stop reading, to go, “Huh … wow.”
Ryan Boudinot writes, “The world was full of precious garbage.” Wow.
Blueprints of the Afterlife runs a gorgeous gamut: complex, blunt, evocative, grimy, and disgusting; full of pain, of hope, of pure bliss. The plot is your straightforward sci-fi fantasy based in post-apocalyptical Seattle, Georgetown to be precise. This is the second novel for Boudinot, the Seattle resident and Professor of Creative Writing at the Goddard College Low Res MFA Program in Port Townsend, after Misconceptions (2009) and his debut short story collection The Littlest Hitler (2007). Valued garbage is everywhere. Food is yucky. Joys are few. Anti-heroes must save humanity. Don’t yawn yet. The sheer imagination with which Boudinot’s tale unwinds is stunning.
To chart the plot would disservice the reader as well as the book. One of the great joys of Blueprints of the Afterlife is to grow comfortable with utter confusion. The central question explores what happens when reality goes hypercube.
As one character describes, “That’s a four-dimensional object. You can think of it as a cube within a cube. The cube on the inside grows as the cube on the outside shrinks.” What happens when the technology we unleash through the Internet becomes our physical reality, and we become its content?
Clear as mud. Plot-schmot. With a story as firm as a forest underfoot, Boudinot has the confidence to sustain his readers by casting the plot like thin, shaved sharp Cheddar. The characters inhabiting the ‘forest’ of Blueprints of the Afterlife are not quite as successful, individually, as the story is as a whole. An odd set of circumstances; these characters are both well drawn and believable. Without losing their humanity, characters remain awesome in their whack-a-doodle-ness. For example, a world-champion dishwasher given to epileptic fits caused by too much empathy? What’s not to love?
My favorite inhabitants include some of the bit players: an island clone community lorded over by an aged Nicole Ritchie type; and later, two of those clones banished for not being gay enough. Will Ferrell. A glacier purposefully intent on destroying major cities. You could orgasm with laughter.
None of the rather large ensemble of primary characters is quite as engaging. The book, however, doesn’t suffer for it. (Per my trailer blog post, I skipped to the bottom of a long paragraph only once—and the book clocks in at 427 pages.) Characters and storylines narrate and disappear, re-surfacing toward each other and a startlingly big conclusion. It is not even clear that the story would be better told with one of the nuttier nutters driving. Blueprints of an Afterlife reflects the inspired rigor of Boudinot’s vision and asks the pivotal questions, What is reality? Why is reality? Boudinot answers with alarming specificity, brave enough to answer, “I don’t know.”
Alle C. Hall won the 2008 Richard Hugo House New Works Competition. Claim to fame: interviewed Leonard Nimoy. Some day, her kids will think she is cool. Also in: Creative Nonfiction, BUST, Literary Mama, Swivel, The Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and The Stranger (Contributing Writer). Most recent pub: “Good Girls Don’t Get Stoned.”