Some books are impossible to put down. Some books make you call in sick to work because you simply can’t stop reading. Some books change your life forever. Max Wirestone’s “The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss” is not one of those books.
The premise is fairly interesting: a broke, unemployed geeky girl gets hired to investigate the theft of a certain unique item that went missing in an MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Pretty soon, however, a real-life crime occurs, and our hapless heroine gets to investigate it too.
There’s a wide variety of wacky characters, a strange online game world and, well, not a whole lot else. Our protagonist, Dahlia Moss, is described in the vaguest possible terms: chronically unemployed, still recovering from a bad breakup over a year ago, suffering from body image issues. That doesn’t stop her from body-shaming other female characters, however (“exceedingly flat. Not just her chest – everything”). I found it hard to feel sympathy for the protagonist when she uses such language against other women, goes to job interviews without any idea what she’s interviewing for, criticizes her charitable roommate who lets her live in the apartment for free, etc.
I’ve seen this book compared to “Scott Pilgrim vs the World,” and it looks like Wirestone had deliberately set out to write a gender-reversed homage. The fact that every character addresses the protagonist by her full name (“Dahlia Moss!”) almost every time they meet her is a rather strong giveaway.
The book tries to be funny, but it didn’t get more than a few chuckles out of me. The in-book continuity is odd: the narrative takes place over the course of about a week, with every day described in detail, yet at one point Dahlia mentions all the detective books she’d read since she started the case. A bad cop shows up for one scene, never to return again, while a good (and secretly geeky) cop inexplicably puts his job on the line by providing Dahlia with very thinly veiled clues about the case.
Normally, I’d give a book like this only 2 stars, but some parts of it were well written and rather quotable. (“My refrigerator is best described in terms of stark minimalism.”)
I wish Max Wirestone better luck with his future (and hopefully less ambitious) endeavors.
Score: 3 out of 5 stars
Pre-order on Amazon (release date: October 20, 2015)