‘Meme:’ Book Review

Daniel just woke up in a hospital room with a raging headache and has no idea how he got there.  Oh, and, small detail . . . the Universe is broken. 

So begins Meme, the first novel by Jack Cusick.  Daniel immediately takes up with the titular character, Meme, a fairly mysterious representative of the “World Police,” who claims to be trying to fix this rather large problem.  It is apparent that Daniel’s circumstances are inextricably connected to this investigation, and the two team up out of necessity (and attraction?) to get to the bottom of things.

From this point on, I don’t think spoilers of any magnitude are in order.  Suffice it to say that Cusick takes full advantage of the rabbit hole he’s opened with this plot construct.  He has an open canvas on which to paint all sorts of entertaining characters, imaginative locations, and circumstances, and he exploits that freedom to the fullest extent.  I was particularly impressed with the myriad of side characters he introduces, each with their own unique qualities. 

Meme is a not-so-subtle nod to Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.  The epigraph at the opening of the book is a quote from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, aptly addressing the nature of the Universe and what might happen should anyone discover the meaning behind it.  Cusick allows the unrestricted nature of the subject matter to guide his writing style, nicely employing the offbeat, sarcastic, stream-of-consciousness flow so prevalent in all of Adams' work.  And, in true Hitchhiker’s style, there is no topic safe from satire and parody, from social media to religion to politics to relationships to . . . the list is endless.

All of which might imply that the story will inevitably get out of hand.  On the contrary, Cusick keeps his circus well in reign.  The plot is never allowed to go off the rails, even though the Universe it occupies clearly has.  The reader will definitely spend the opening pages wondering what the heck they’ve been dropped into, but it’s soon apparent just how carefully Cusick is in control of the disorder.  All of the crazy characters and story threads stay nicely tied together, no matter how random they might seem at the time.

This is a first novel, and Cusick has some freshman bumps to iron out of his story.  The action sequences come off choreographed and too academic, with little sense of actual peril.  Some of this can be ascribed to the general tongue-in-cheek nature of the writing style, but I would love to see Cusick invest in a higher level of suspense to elevate the humor.

I was also periodically distracted by repetitive explanations for character emotions and motivations.  There is a very subtle line between employing repetition to carry off a humorous gimmick and in just being . . . well, being repetitive.  On this front, Cusick would be well served by dialing the gimmick back by a few degrees.  At a certain point, it’s time to move on from explaining about how well Daniel is “taking this whole broken Universe thing in stride” to some other relevant aspect of his development.

And, on the topic of gimmicks, Cusick gives Meme specific internet memes to use as dialogue.  I wasn’t quite sure I understood how these were being employed . . . other than as an obvious explanation for her name.  This tactic didn’t get tied into the plot or directly addressed at any point, so while being somewhat clever, it came off as somewhat forced in the dialogue.

Any editing notes aside, though, I was ridiculously entertained by Meme.  There are any number of academic observations I could make here, but the most telling symptom of my enjoyment can simply be found in my bookmarking the heck out of my Kindle, highlighting line after line of hilarious observations and witty dialogue.  Meme is a nice reminder that the self-publishing world is full of lovely, little gems.  Cusick is definitely going on my list of authors to keep my eye on.

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