Stand Up, Ernie Baxter: You’re Dead: by Adam Voith, 251 pgs. By Sean Carswell

As the title would suggest, the main character of this novel is dead. The book starts off in the afterlife, where Ernie Baxter is coming to the realization that, after a fairly uneventful life, he’s dead. Ernie was in his twenties when he died of cancer, and he didn’t exactly leave behind a wake of mourners. The two people who are most shaken up by Ernie’s death are Ernie’s mother and Ernie’s old high school girlfriend, Kyra, both of whom live in a small town in Indiana. The bulk of the novel drifts back and forth between Ernie’s mom and Kyra dealing with his death, and Ernie adjusting to upcoming eternity in the afterlife. But the novel is not nearly the downer that you would expect out of a plot like that. Actually, one of the things Ernie left behind was a laptop. Since his mother apparently can’t operate the laptop, she enlists the help of Kyra to read the documents that Ernie wrote on his death bed. As it turns out, Ernie had been living a second life as a stand-up comic in Seattle. His final documents dealt with all of his stand-up acts and his life in Seattle. Now the surprising thing about Stand Up, Ernie Baxter is that the stand-up acts aren’t what livens this book up. To be honest, the stand-up acts aren’t very funny at all. I’m even half-convinced that the author didn’t intend to make the stand-up acts funny. I think part of Adam Voith’s intention was to show Ernie as a misdirected kid, and his comedy was one of his misdirections.

Kyra’s life, on the other hand, is sadly funny. She lives in this little farm town in Indiana in a house that her wealthy parents (who aren’t farmers; they moved to this town because they were rich and had dreams of returning to the land) built for her and her husband. And just as her parents are ironic farmers, Kyra’s husband is an ironic redneck. He’s a guy who lives off of his trust fund and off of his in-laws, a guy who’s apparently never worked a day in his life, yet he embraces all the worst clichés of a midwestern redneck. He goes out of his way to pose as one of these clichés. As you’d probably expect, Kyra’s husband is a dick and he treats her poorly, but the interactions between the two of them make for some exciting, well-written scenes. Also, Kyra develops as a very cool character when you see her dealing with both her ex-boyfriend’s death and the kooks who make up her family. We see the stand-up acts through Kyra’s eyes as she reads them off the laptop, and we also get to learn about her relationship with Ernie through old notes that he’s passed her in high school and that she kept.

As the novel develops, we find out that Kyra is pregnant with the ironic redneck’s baby and that Ernie’s mother is a bit of a kook herself and that Ernie’s time in the afterlife is making it clear to him that he didn’t do much with the life he was given. All of these things lead up to a pretty exciting climax and conclusion, and the end will surprise you. Overall, Stand Up, Ernie Baxter is well-written and a good read. The pages just flow by. My only complaint about the book is that, even though the whole premise of the book surrounds the death of the main character, the book lacks any real insight into these bigger issues of life and death. There is a healthy dose of regret and sadness and the ability to bring humor to dark situations, but there’s not a whole lot of depth. Still, this book is a page-turner. It’ll hook you and keep you reading, and it’s exciting to see such a high quality novel come out of a purely DIY effort. Also, all of the stand-up acts are drawn out as comics in the middle of the novel, which is a pretty cool touch. – Sean Carswell (TNI Books, 2442 NW Market #357, Seattle, WA 98107)