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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Afterword

Mike Bryan

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To purchase The Afterword

Title: The Afterword
Author: Mike Bryan
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 195 pages
Availability: The Afterword - US
The Afterword - UK
The Afterword - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B- : moderately interesting theological speculation, dressed up in an unconvincing literary contrivance

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Observer . 2/6/2003 Alice K. Turner
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/3/2003 Benjamin Swett
The Village Voice . 18/3/2003 Ed Park
Weekly Standard . 2/6/2003 Jeremy Lott

  Review Consensus:

  Bemused, not particularly impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "But people are mostly of the faith or reject it, or their eyes simply glaze over. This does not bode especially well for Mr. Bryan’s book, which isn’t particularly gripping, though it has a winningly congenial tone and gets off some good lines. (...) But metafiction with no plot and no payday -- if one can call the Crucifixion and Resurrection a payday -- is not everyone’s notion of something to curl up with." - Alice K. Turner, The New York Observer

  • "The Afterword turns back and back on itself in what amounts to an anxious monologue by someone so caught up in the hype of contemporary fiction that he seems to have lost track of the fact that the novel he has been describing never existed." - Benjamin Swett, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Too toothless for sustained satire, The Afterword at least manages one slowly dawning joke: that a snoozefest like Deity could perch atop the Times fiction list for 179 weeks -- "one more than The Bridges of Madison County." (....) At best, he approximates Nicholson Baker, at once breezy and willing to consider every angle of a theory. (...) But elsewhere his glibness is problematic. The more he reveals, the less one cottons to his character" - Ed Park, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Afterword claims to be the author's afterword to a novel written by a 'Mike Bryan' called The Deity Next Door, appended to a "handsome new edition" of that book. But, in fact, The Deity Next Door itself exists only in the fictional universe of the The Afterword -- that's the clever (?) premise of the book.
       Writing about a book that doesn't exist isn't entirely a new idea -- Stanislaw Lem has written whole collections of fictional book reviews, book introductions, and the like -- but Bryan offers one of the more extended such afterwordly turns. We didn't count the number of words, but we wouldn't be surprised to learn that it is, in fact, exactly the same length as the fictional novel it is appended too: 31,697. (There's the first clue, by the way, that The Afterword, in fact, is The Deity Next Door -- presented in the only way that Bryan found he could write it.)
       Such literary games demand an explanation. The simplest one -- a writer just deciding to take a playful turn -- would be acceptable, but there seems more to it here. And, unfortunately, what it seems is that Bryan couldn't write The Deity Next Door and decided to present his story and explain his intentions in this form instead. The Afterword isn't very afterword-like: it is nearly 200 pages long (and, as mentioned, about (and possibly exactly) the length of the novel it follows). Worse, it recounts the entire story of The Deity Next Door, in often painstaking detail. Some of this is genuinely interesting, and the sort of stuff he couldn't as easily get away with in the narrative he supposedly wrote -- as when Bryan discusses alternatives not chosen and explains why he did certain things in the novel. But most of it isn't very gripping: the summary retelling of a story, even a non-existent one, makes one (at best) eager for the actual story.
       Bryan's ruse might be more tolerable but for one fact: he insists on making The Deity Next Door the most successful book around ("breaking three records on the New York Times fiction list alone"). The book spent no less than 179 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list (37 of them at number one). Not only that, but he insists on the truly ridiculous: that readers took The Deity Next Door seriously:

Deity is a commercial novel written by a rank amateur, but as you're reading the story you believe it, by all reports
       All this self-aggrandizing is particularly irritating: Bryan does not lay anywhere near enough foundation for it, and it comes across as him whining to the reader that what he has to say is of great importance, utterly convincing, and would be embraced by the masses (if they were aware of it). Since The Afterword is essentially an echo of The Deity Next Door (recounting the same story, with some explanatory notes and without the fictional padding) he implies that it too should be taken as seriously as The Deity Next Door. The disconnect with reality is almost complete; indeed, the reason why Bryan's claims for the success of The Deity Next Door are so unconvincing (making much of this whole enterprise so unconvincing) is that it is clear to the reader from early on that The Afterword (which is, in fact, just The Deity Next Door packaged slightly differently) could never possibly make The New York Times bestseller list.
       In making his books such a success Bryan goes about it all wrong, but there are some justifications for the approach he took (writing an afterword, rather than the actual novel). It allows Bryan to describe the writing of his book: how he came to it, how he made choices along the way, who and what influenced him, etc. It also allows him more time for theological ruminations -- stuff that wouldn't work as well in the novel-version of the story.
       The Mike Bryan who wrote The Deity Next Door is very much like the real Bryan: a sportswriter who wrote a failed book on evangelicals (a footnote provides the bibliographic information: "Chapter and Verse: A Skeptic Revisits Christianity, Random House, 1991; Penguin, 1992; out of print, 1993."). He can't shake the theological bug and begins "entertaining the idea of a novel about a new deity" -- wanting to write "a real book for readers inclined more to thinking than either believing or disdaining."
       That's what he does: invents a character named Blaine, who happens to be a new messiah, a Jesus-like figure who only slowly becomes aware of his special gifts and powers. The Afterword recounts Blaine's transformation and the consequences (from how people react to what Blaine does with his powers), and how Bryan figured out how best to present it in his fictional novel. (Try as he might, however, The Deity Next Door sounds like a horribly, hopelessly cheesy book.)
       The most interesting parts of The Afterword focus on the theological issues: how does one present a messiah in our day and age ? How would a messiah be received ? What would he do ? Etc.
       Bryan offers some interesting thoughts on why he made Blaine act a certain way, or do certain things, frequently comparing him to the original messianic figure, Jesus. Other religions are also considered (not in depth, but they are usefully referred to). And so ultimately Bryan does get to write his novel-of-ideas.
       That the ideas -- like most theological ideas -- are often deeply misguided is almost beside the point. He's certain, for example, that:
it's people most of us are mostly interested in, and the religion that invested everything in one person -- monotheism personified -- is either a stroke of the shrewdest human genius or God's final truth.
       Though Bryan claims to be agnostic he treats the Jesus-myth and all the attendant stories very seriously. For much of the novel it sounds like he wrote (or wanted to write) about a new messiah because he personally is in such desperate need of one.
       Bryan writes briskly and simply enough -- though the breezy style is sometimes at odds with his purposes (and makes it even harder to believe that The Deity Next Door could have possibly been a readable -- much less successful -- work). He brings in everything from Sartre to contemporary American Christianity, meandering between the retelling of The Deity Next Door and other experiences, without lingering too long over any particular point (or, consequently, probing anything too deeply). The Afterword is a quick, often entertaining read which throws up many interesting questions. It's not a success, in any respect, but it is an occasionally interesting failure.

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The Afterword: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the Index of Contemporary American fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Mike Bryan is a sportswriter.

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© 2003-2010 the complete review

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